Tesla Had 3 Times as Many OSHA Violations as the 10 Largest US Plants Combined

CEO Elon Musk once called California OSHA the 'most stringent' safety organization in the US.

Tour of Tesla Factor in Fremont, California
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

When it comes to building cars in America, most big names have chosen to set up shop in rural states which carry a large presence of automaking production facilities, but not Tesla. Instead, the electric giant set up shop in Fremont, California where it relies on the work of an estimated 15,000 workers and contractors who make building its cars possible.

While the number of active workers may be more than any other manufacturer who produces cars in the US, Tesla has seemingly also discovered that more employees mean more risk to injury that needs to be stymied. In fact, data collected by Forbes shows that Tesla has accumulated more than three times the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations that its top 10 competitors amassed from 2014-2018.

data via Forbes

While Tesla employs the most individuals and contractors of the top 10 auto plants in the United States, its current estimated production capacity places it at 7th place.

Musk has previously stated that tweaking the existing production line at Fremont would help to achieve 7,000 vehicles per week; the next goal above that would be 10,000 units per week and require production line downtime. In Tesla's fourth quarterly conference call, Musk mentions that in order to achieve the 10,000 unit goal per week, the "biggest driver" would be bringing Gigafactory Shanghai online which would produce an estimated 3,000 units weekly by year's end.

Still, Tesla manages to rack up more violations than that other 10 entities combined from 2014-2018. Its 54 OSHA violations, as reported by Forbes, have amassed a total of $236,730 in fines, many of which presently in the OSHA database are showing as contested or pending adjudication (meaning that the paid fines, pending fines, and current fines may all be different depending on the outcome of the OSHA settlement post-contest).

data via Forbes, Tesla Q3 2018 

A collection of OSHA violations and fines amassed by the 10 US auto manufacturing plants from 2014 - 2018.

A search of the OSHA national database show conducted by The Drive found similar data. Publicly available in the database were 12 OSHA violations issued to Tesla's Fremont production facility in 2018; however, data collected by Forbes suggests that there are at least six other violations not yet listed online.

A Tesla spokesperson told The Drive that it did not have record of all 54 OSHA citations at its Fremont facility, citing that OSHA broke its own policies in order to leak the violations to Forbes prior to formally presenting them to the automaker.

From the period of Aug. 22, 2014-June 21, 2018, the following OSHA violations were found in the national database for Tesla's assembly plant:

  • 9 accidents which resulted in 22 OSHA violations
  • 7 complaints which resulted in 18 OSHA violations
  • 4 incidents in which 8 OSHA violations were found unrelated to a specific complaint

The above 48 violations do not include an additional 27 violations which occurred at other Tesla and Tesla Energy owned locations around the United States during the same time period. One-third of all violations across all Tesla ventures (which include warehouses, retail showrooms, and Tesla Energy) were entered into the OSHA database for incidents in 2018 alone.

Tesla has undergone a stressful period of time necessary to ramp up the production of its premium sedan, the Model 3. CEO Elon Musk referred to the ramp up as "production hell" on more than one occasion, knowing that company was "within single-digit weeks" of death at times. Last week, Tesla was able to finally deliver on its long-promised $35,000 Model 3, a feat which required Tesla cut costs in every way possible to achieve, even if it required a more hands-on approach to car building rather than being completely automated.

A blog post by Tesla's VP of Environmental, Health, and Safety Laurie Shelby shows that although Tesla may have received more OSHA violations than the majority of the injury, the automaker has less than half the number of industry average reportable incidents. Musk has also called the California OSHA branch the "most stringent labor safety org in US," which perhaps explains why Tesla's California-based production plant sees higher criticism than production facilities in other US states.