A recent report by Reuters reveals that SpaceX employees may be going to extreme lengths to keep up with Elon Musk’s ambitious deadlines, and employees have accused Musk of ignoring safety protocols due to aesthetics.
The investigation by Reuters found that SpaceX has had at least 600 previously unreported worker injuries since 2014, including eight accidents that led to amputations.
The report also reveals employees reportedly are using stimulants and IV fluids, as well as sleeping in restrooms to keep up with Musk’s projects.
Former SpaceX employee Travis Carson told Reuters about the work culture, and said the company's welders dealt with dangerously high temperatures while working on rocket machinery, leading them to seek IV treatments to endure the heat and continue working, he said.
“SpaceX’s idea of safety is: ‘We’ll let you decide what’s safe for you,’ which really means there was no accountability,” Carson told Reuters. “That’s a terrible approach to take in industrial environments.”
SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell told employees in a 2022 email to "focus on your job and the mission of SpaceX — to get humanity to Mars as quickly as possible," after they raised workplace complaints in an open letter, Reuters reported.
Shotwell's email was in response to an open letter written by SpaceX employees that criticized the company's attitude toward employee concerns and inconsistent enforcement of discipline policies, per the report.
Nine employees were fired for raising complaints in the letter — and eight of those have since filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.
Injuries could be higher than reported
SpaceX has about 13,000 employees and has reported many worker injuries over the past nine years. The number of injuries could be higher than reported, as the company has not consistently submitted comprehensive reports to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to Reuters.
The findings showed that SpaceX's average injury rates at three of the facilities far outpaced that of the wider space industry, which stood at 0.8 injuries per 100 workers in 2022, per the report. The Brownsville, Texas, site had an average injury rate of 4.8 injuries per 100 workers in 2022, Hawthorne, California, was at 1.8, and McGregor, Texas, was at 2.7.
According to the report, among the injuries were nine workers who suffered head injuries, including one traumatic brain injury, and 17 who had their hands or fingers crushed.
The report also highlighted concerns regarding workplace safety practices at SpaceX. Former supervisors at SpaceX told Reuters that Musk discouraged employees from wearing yellow, including the standard issue bright yellow safety vests, because he does not like bright colors. Former employees also said Mush would have machinery that came painted in industrial safety yellow repainted to black or blue.
The employees also told the news outlet that Musk would play around with a novelty flamethrower during visits that the billionaire made to SpaceX sites.
SpaceX did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.
Read the full Reuters investigation here.