At the same time as a worker at Tesla’s California factory is going public with concerns of an alleged litany of “preventable” work-related injuries, the automaker is quietly challenging citations and fines for alleged workplace violations at the company’s west Michigan tool and die plant, according to records obtained by Jalopnik.
In September, an employee at Tesla’s Michigan plant filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The brief complaint—which focuses on an alleged lack of regulations and rules for cleaning up items like battery acid at the plant—sparked a probe that eventually led to Tesla being cited for several violations of Michigan’s OSHA laws—along with fines of $6,000.
Tesla has not responded to a request for comment.
While a meager sum and over a seemingly minor incident, Tesla feels strongly enough about the merits of the allegations to file an appeal, and the employee’s complaint echoes concerns raised by the California worker who says he is part of efforts to unionize Tesla’s only automotive assembly plant.
“The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies,” the California worker, Jose Moran, wrote on Medium.
The issue in Michigan dates to last September, when the state launched an inspection following a complaint that was filed by a Tesla employee with concerns about a lack of measures in place to clean up battery acid or water overflow in the facility’s Hi-Los. Documents from the state suggest that the overflow of water in a Hi-Lo, a forklift vehicle, in a worst case scenario, could lead to loss of vision if handled improperly.
According to the complaint, obtained by Jalopnik under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act:
On September 15, 2016 there was an over-fill of water on one of the Hi-Los. When the employer [Tesla] was asked how to clean it up, the response was to ‘get a mop with some water.’ There was no clean-up kit or anything. When asked how to take the excess water out of the remaining Hi-Los, the employees were instructed to “use a turkey baster and put it somewhere.”
When the employer were asked for proper training to fill the batteries, as well as clean up, the employees were laughed at.
The state issued three citations to Tesla after an inspection of the plant, for generally inadequate measures to assess potential hazards in the workplace.
“Inadequate hazard assessment, in that hazards of filling the powered industrial truck batteries of the clean up from over filling the batteries about the facility had not been assessed,” the citation read. Records show that Michigan proposed a $3,000 penalty and said the violation was corrected during the inspection.
The second citation said employers are required to develop, implement, and maintain a “written hazard communication program” which outlines criteria and a list of hazardous chemicals known to be present at the plant.
“Through employee interviews and observation, it was found there was no proper measures in place to clean-up battery acid,” according to a September 27th field narrative from Michigan’s OSHA.
The narrative, seemingly written by an OSHA investigator, goes on to describe a summary of what Tesla employees conveyed through interviews. In what appears to be a reference to the lack of training on how to clean up battery acid, the narrative says that “they were originally given a plastic trash bag to use as an apron, nitrile gloves and a face shield,” adding “they have thrown together a spill kit.”
Employees weren’t trained on battery acid and proper personal protection equipment needed to clean up battery acid, the redacted narrative said.
No injuries were cited in the documents. The company was previously fined $89,000 in 2014 for an incident at the Fremont, California plant that injured three workers.
Tesla has since appealed the Michigan citations; records show a pre-hearing conference appears to be set for March 1st.