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Tesla fined $29,365 for safety hazards in Model 3 production tent

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The tent may have saved the company from the brink, but it also might not have been up to code

Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

Tesla has been fined $29,365 for violating California labor laws in the parking lot tent where Model 3s are assembled. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) recorded six violations between June 2018 (when the tent was erected) and December 2018, according to Business Insider.

Tesla failed to obtain a permit before building the tent, and failed to inspect it for potential safety hazards, according to Cal-OSHA. The company also failed to cover a hole in the floor that measured 22 inches wide, 14 inches long, and eight inches deep. Tesla also did not properly train employees on evacuation procedures in the tent, or on how to prevent and respond to heat illness. Lastly, the tent featured exposed metal rods and rebar.

Laurie Shelby, Tesla’s vice president of environmental, health, and safety, says in a statement to The Verge that the company will challenge Cal-OSHA’s findings.

“Nothing is more important to me or to Tesla than the health and well-being of our employees,” Shelby says. She also claims that the inspections were not a result of any incident or injury, and that Cal-OSHA performed them while the tent was still under construction. “My EHS team and operational leaders have been intently focused on [the tent assembly line] over the past six months, implementing safety protocols throughout the new line that not only keep Tesla in compliance with existing standards but also reduce risks to associates.”

The tent was built in a parking lot outside Tesla’s Fremont, California factory last summer, during the height of the company’s mad rush to build thousands of Model 3s per week. The wild idea — essentially a first in the typically by-the-books automotive industry — increased the company’s production capacity by around 50 percent and helped meet CEO Elon Musk’s bold production targets for the Model 3. Not only did it help the company avoid death, according to Musk, but it also enabled Tesla to turn its first quarterly profit in two years.

Tesla has been accused of workplace safety problems repeatedly in the past, and Cal-OSHA is reportedly running multiple investigations. Tesla’s on-site health clinic was recently accused of underreporting injuries in 2018. Tesla claimed in 2017 that its injury rate dropped 25 percent, and said in 2018 that the number declined further, though it didn’t specify by how much.