Tesla VP for Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Laurie Shelby outlined in a blog post how the California-based electric car maker and energy company plans to attain its goal of having the safest car factory in the world. Tesla’s safety plan covers several aspects of its factories’ operations, from the training of new employees to the compensation injured workers receive after incurring work-related injuries.
Shelby, a 25-year veteran in the EHS field, noted that Tesla has been on the right track even before she joined the company back in October 2017. In her blog post, Shelby noted that safety in an automotive production line usually goes down to common sense, a culture that values safety, the rollout of proactive preventive measures, and a management that listens to its employees. The EHD veteran stated that much of these attributes are present in Tesla’s Fremont factory.
One thing that Shelby particularly focused on is Tesla’s proactive stance when it comes to workplace safety. By adopting a proactive stance, the California-based electric car maker and energy firm can address possible safety issues even before an incident happens. In the Model 3 production line alone, a comment from one of the factory’s employees ultimately resulted in the implementation of new safety measures for workers in the assembly line. This, together with Tesla’s habit of observing how employees work even when no issues are occurring, positively impacts the company’s safety.
A key factor in Tesla’s improvement in terms of workplace safety comes from its willingness to change its policies over time as well. According to Shelby, a particularly good example of this is the change in Tesla’s Return to Work program. In the past, Tesla followed the conventional approach in the auto industry, reassigning injured workers to a less demanding post until they are fully recovered. The problem with this system was that employees are paid according to their temporary post, which results in lower pay, despite disability payments or the collection of workers’ compensation.
In Tesla’s new Return to Work program, injured workers still get reassigned to less demanding posts. Unlike the previous system, however, recovering employees will not see any adjustments in their compensation. In the event that Tesla cannot accommodate the recovering worker in the factory, the employee will be temporarily asked to render hours in nonprofits like the YMCA, libraries, or even food pantries, where they will be paid their regular salary.
According to the EHS veteran, the Elon Musk-led firm is implementing an even more intensive training program for new employees, covering the basics of manufacturing, ergonomics, and workplace safety. Tesla is also hiring a new medical director that will oversee a 24/7 in-house medical center. Furthermore, athletic trainers are being hired to work proactively with employees, especially those who are feeling aches and pains from their work in the factory.
Overall, Shelby stated that Tesla had already managed to take significant strides in workplace safety over the years. In 2017 alone, Tesla’s Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR), the workplace safety metric, averaged 6.2, which is well within the industry average. In comparison, the Fremont facility, when it was being managed by NUMMI, averaged 12.6 between 2003-2009.