New Rules of Safety: Reflecting on health and safety at Tesla
Rule #17 – we are not robots.
People are at the heart of safety culture excellence, not machines.
Over the last few years Tesla, makers of some very cool electric vehicles, has struggled with safety. Between 2013 and 2016 Tesla’s accidents rates have been some 30% more than industry average, according to Worksafe – and paramedics arrived at their Californian plant more than 100 times between May 2014 and May 2017. The Tesla factory employs around 10,000 workers and strives to make nearly half a million cars by 2018 – a 495% increase from 2016.
In 2016 Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk conceded that his workers had been “having a hard time, working long hours, and on hard jobs”. Last week Tesla yet again hit the headlines for poor safety performance. But this time, Musk responded differently.
Despite the negativity Musk insists that safety is the number one priority at Tesla. He claims that recent actions, including the company’s hiring of several thousand employees to respond to production demands for more cars and to help reduce excess overtime has had a significant impact in lowering injury rates.
South African Musk is no stranger to cultural dynamics, and seems to have got the message about the importance of safety at work. In a personal letter sent to every employee he articulates just how seriously he sees workplace safety.
“No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.
Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.
It’s best to try to prevent a negative circumstance from occurring than to wait for it to occur and then be reactive,” Musk says, “When the risk is severe, it seems like you should be proactive and not reactive.”
Whilst Musk’s note seems to say the right thing, what he suggests is actually what all managers at Tesla should be doing as a matter of course. Because it doesn’t matter what we say we care about, it matters what we do.
Truly effective leaders know that to inspire their followers, they need to practice what they preach. Great leaders know when they need to take matters into their own hands. When a serious problem occurs they get involved and work hard to make things right.
If Musk is true to his word it will be a terrific example of a leader willing to do what it takes to effect change – and demonstrate this through real felt leadership.
The New Rule of Safety #17: Ask now, not later
Your people need to know that you’ve got their back. Are you all talk? Or are you willing to put yourself out there for them? One way to understand safety culture before an injury occurs is to ask ‘How safe was it today?’
As Musk now understands, it’s far better to ask ‘How safe was it today?’ than ‘What did we do wrong yesterday?’
Andrew’s global best-selling book From Accidents to Zero: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Workplace Safety Culture is available to SHPonline readers with an exclusive 25% discount. His new book Mind Your Own Business – co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt is also out now. Use the code SHP25 at www.fromaccidentstozero.com to order your copies of both books. But be quick!
Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing
Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.
This free director’s briefing contains:
- Key points;
- Recommendations for employers;
- Case law;
- Legal duties.