Following reports of injuries and employee dissatisfaction regarding safety at the Fremont factory, Tesla released a report on their progress and announced a series of new measures toward achieving what they claim will be “the safest car factory in the world.”
In October, Tesla hired Laurie Shelby from Alcoa to oversee all aspect of environment, health and safety throughout the automaker’s workforce.
She is primarily focusing on Fremont Factory, where Tesla employs about 10,000 workers and where there has been a continuous unionization effort led by the United Auto Workers (UAW) over the past two years.
Since then, several media reports and board complaints came out about working conditions at the factory and it has been difficult to understand the depth of the problem, if any, within the union promotion effort.
But Tesla has acknowledged a higher than desired injury rate last year and now Shelby gives an update on the metric in a new blog post:
“The traditional workplace safety metric is Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR). Based on the data through the end of the year, Tesla’s 2017 recordable incident rate at the Fremont Factory has improved nearly 25% percent from 2016 and is now equivalent to the most recent published industry average. This is obviously still not where we want to be, but I’m extremely confident that we will be below industry average in 2018. When I look closely at our 2017 data, a few things stand out.”
Shelby compared those numbers favorably to the incident rate of Fremont factory when it was operated by Toyota and GM (NUMMI):
The executive adds that the majority of the incidents have to do with ergonomic issues.
She claims that the Model 3 production line was designed to be more ergonomic than the Model S and Model X production lines, which should have a bigger impact once Tesla ramps up production.
“We’ve also taken our learnings from Model S and Model X and applied them to those working on Model 3. Tesla’s ergonomics team was heavily involved in the development of Model 3, for example, using a virtual reality program to study the exact movements that would be used when building the car. This massively improved ergonomics on the Model 3 assembly line by reducing potential stresses and strains – even before production started. This has already had a major positive impact and will be seen more broadly as we continue to ramp Model 3 production.”
She also announced several other measures to improve health and safety since taking over the role at Tesla, including a new ‘Return to Work program’ to help employees recover from an injury, a new training center, a new in-house medical director, and more.
With a factory of 10,000 employees, some injuries are unfortunately inevitable, but you would think that Tesla’s Fremont factory is hell on earth if you base your opinion only on the media reports about the working conditions at the plant over the last year or so.
Now it has been difficult to determine if that’s truly the case or if the injuries at the factory are just more publicized because of the unionization effort.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.
Either way, it looks like Tesla is making some efforts to improve. I think they should make blog posts like that more often to update us on the progress of their various programs.
One of the most interesting tidbits of information that came out of the post, in my opinion, is that “the number of labor hours needed to complete a vehicle has decreased 33% since early 2016.” If that’s true, it’s either insanely impressive or Tesla had a real problem with labor hours per vehicle back in 2016.