In a recent Reuters investigation, 600 workplace injuries were reported at Elon Musk's SpaceX company, ranging from comas to crushed fingers to death. Is racing to space really worth the risks?
Billionaire Elon Musk is putting pressure on employees as he races towards his goal: taking flight again as early as this week. After the first flight in April 2023 was terminated after only four minutes — and concrete debris flew and smashed down on cars during takeoff — Musk is ready to try again.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted an investigation after the incident and it resulted in Musk receiving a laundry list of safety requirements within the company.
However, now Musk faces a new battle.
Through interviews and records, Reuters has found that there have been at least 600 injuries on the job site at SpaceX.
Injuries included crushed limbs, amputations, electrocutions, head wounds and eye wounds.
Moreover, at the SpaceX facility in 2014, Lonnie LeBlanc, 38, a former United States Marine, sat down on a piece of insulation on the back of a trailer after he and his coworkers realized they had no straps to secure the object. LeBlanc died from head trauma after he was blown off of the trailer by a strong Texas wind and slammed his head into the pavement.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would state that SpaceX did not protect LeBlanc after his coworkers explained that they had no access to proper tie-downs for the insulation. OSHA instructed SpaceX that they needed to implement more training and equipment.
LeBlanc's death was largely unreported by SpaceX and since his death, the company has done little to improve the safety of their workers.
In the Reuters records, more than 100 employees had cuts or lacerations, 29 people experienced broken bones, 17 people had crushed hands or fingers, and nine people had head injuries.
Employees of the company, both current and former, explained that SpaceX is a chaotic, under-trained, and overworked workplace. In order to meet deadlines, safety measures are disregarded. Many employees were hired in rush efforts, which led to little training and no experience.
In the report, Musk is said to play with a flamethrower on the job site and asks workers to avoid wearing yellow safety vests because he "dislikes bright colors."
The space company has not reported these workplace injuries to OSHA and as a result, the company has been fined $50,836.
"SpaceX shouldn't be exempt from protecting workers from being injured or killed just because they're doing innovative work," said Jordan Barab, OSHA's former deputy assistant secretary to Reuters.
SpaceX has denied all allegations that they disregard workers safety.