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Work accidents and environmental hazards plague Tesla’s German gigafactory

So much for occupational safety

There's more to this factory than meets the eye. PHOTO FROM TESLA

It seems if you like to live dangerously, then a job at a Tesla factory might be just the thing for you. That’s at least if a new report from Germany is to be believed. The American EV maker opened a gigafactory near the capital of Berlin not too long ago, and an investigation by German magazine Stern has just unveiled that it appears to be quite a hazardous place to work.

The bureaucracy-loving country requires companies to report all work accidents to the government that resulted in an employee being off sick for three days or more, and the accident book at the Tesla facility is apparently growing at a rate that far exceeds what is considered normal in the industry. On top of that, the firm also seems to have some environmental problems.

The safety of factory workers matters more than plant efficiency. PHOTO FROM TESLA

According to the news outlet, a file note from the State Office for Occupational Health and Safety shows that accidents occurred at the German gigafactory on an almost daily basis and over a long period of time. Between June and November 2022 alone, Tesla recorded at least 190 reportable accidents.

The magazine further reports that documents from the rescue centers also show that Musk’s factory requested an ambulance or a helicopter 247 times in the first year after opening. Based on the number of employees, this is three times as many emergenciesover a similar period of timeas in Audi’s factory in Ingolstadt, for example.

Details about the various accidents have also been revealed, and they make for some gruesome reading. One incident saw a 50kg heavy wooden box fall on the head of an employee from a height of several meters, while another accident involved an employee breaking into an oven with molten aluminum with his foot.

Rescuers also listed injuries from burns and exposure to hydrochloric acid as well as amputated limbs. A local union leader is on record as saying that this frequency of accidents at work is not normal, and that he’s concerned someone will die at some point. So far, Tesla has not released any statement or responded to the allegations made by Stern.

Perhaps Tesla's EVs aren't as environment-friendly as we thought. PHOTO FROM TESLA

In addition to the work accidents, the magazine also reports on several environmental incidents. Since it opened a year and a half ago, 26 environmental accidents have been reported at the plant. This information was obtained from the Brandenburg State Office of Environment according to the publication, and incidents included spills such as paint and diesel as well as fires.

According to the State Environment Agency, the incidents are operational disruptions and not major incidents within the meaning of the local Major Incident Ordinance. Tesla is on record as rejecting any concerns, even if the firm acknowledges that some incidents took place.

According to available information, the accidents included the leaking of 15,000L of paint, 13 tons of aluminum, and varying quantities of diesel ranging from 50L to 250L. During one incident, 300L of extinguishing water also seeped into the ground after a fire.

Is 'accident' still an appropriate term if they happen too frequently? PHOTO FROM TESLA

While all of these incidents aren’t exactly good for the local environment, at least it seems that adequate cleanup operations took place afterward. In case of at least one diesel leak, this meant the ground was dug out and cleaned professionally. On top of all this, there have also been eight fires since March 2022, including one at an illegal waste site in September 2022.

Tesla has been manufacturing electric cars in Grünheide near Berlin since March 2022. Environmentalists and nature conservationists see danger because part of the factory is located in a water protection areaconcerns that Tesla continues to dismiss.

According to the company’s latest information, around 11,000 employees work in the gigafactory, producing around 250,000 vehicles per year. Tesla already wants to expand the factory, but maybe it needs to review its H&S policies first.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.