Tesla subcontractor's busted jaw triggered safety probe

Days before Tesla Inc. defended its safety record this week, California began inspecting an incident involving a subcontractor who was hospitalized after a piece of factory equipment broke his jaw.

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health was notified last week of a serious injury sustained by a 30-year-old man at Tesla's assembly plant. The regulator, known as Cal/OSHA, started an investigation on April 12.

The worker "was struck by a skid carrier and was transported to the San Jose Regional Hospital with a broken jaw and laceration to the face," said Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for California's industrial relations department. The man was employed by Automatic Systems Inc., a company based in Kansas City, Mo.

The incident and inspection haven't been reported previously and took place before Tesla's safety practices came under scrutiny this week. The Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal published a story Monday saying Tesla failed to report serious injuries as legally required. On Tuesday, Cal/OSHA opened its second inspection involving Tesla in five days. While the agency hasn't specifically identified what spurred that probe, Monterroza said the regulator "takes seriously reports of workplace hazards and allegations of employers' underreporting recordable work-related injuries and illnesses."

In an emailed statement Friday, Tesla said that it takes any injury seriously and will fully cooperate with Cal/OSHA. The company said its injury rate and average severity of injury declined last year, even as vehicle production increased 20 percent.

"This injury involved a worker who had been hired by an independent contractor and was performing a procedure that had been developed by and was under the supervision of that contractor," Tesla said in its statement. "This contractor was also responsible for reporting the injury, which they did."

Representatives for Automatic Systems didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Automatic Systems worker's injury took place around 11 a.m. on April 9, according to Cal/OSHA. Because both the subcontractor and Tesla were involved in the incident, it's considered a multi-employer investigation.

Inspection's significance

Safety agencies are resource-constrained, so the California agency's decision to open the second inspection this week was significant, said Deborah Berkowitz, a former federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration chief of staff.

"OSHA isn't like your local county health department that inspects every restaurant every year," she said. "It would take OSHA 150 years to investigate every workplace under their jurisdiction just once" and "most companies don't see OSHA in their whole lifetime."

Tesla employs more than 10,000 workers at its assembly plant and is shifting to 24/7 operations to ramp up production of the Model 3. The cheaper sedan is the linchpin to Musk's effort to reach profitability and a wider swath of consumers. The CEO told employees this week he wants to make 6,000 of the cars a week by the end of June and plans to hire hundreds of additional workers in Fremont, California, and at Tesla's battery factory near Reno, Nev.

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