With a workforce of 13,000, SpaceX’s valuation was around $150 billion earlier this year. Musk himself owns a 42% stake in the company and controls 79% of its voting rights, according to a recent company filing.
However, a recent Reuters investigation found that some SpaceX employees had resorted to extreme measures to cope with the demanding work environment at the company’s launch facilities. According to the report, workers take Adderall, a stimulant commonly prescribed for ADHD, without a prescription, to maintain concentration due to the intense work pace. Travis Carson, a former SpaceX employee, said some workers often put in more than 80 hours a week.
The investigation also found that employees sometimes slept in the facility to get more work done, with some even falling asleep in the bathroom. SpaceX welders, working in tents at the launch site, faced temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To beat the heat and continue working, they received IV treatments.
SpaceX, which employs about 13,000 people, has suffered at least 600 workplace accidents in nine years at its facilities. This figure does not represent the total number of injuries because the company did not submit complete reports to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The reported injury rate at SpaceX facilities exceeded space industry averages for the same years.
Records revealed a range of injuries among SpaceX workers, many of which were serious or debilitating. These included more than 100 cases of workers suffering cuts or lacerations, 29 cases of fractures or dislocations and 17 cases of crushed hands or fingers. Additionally, nine head injuries were reported, including one skull fracture, four concussions and one head injury. The data also showed five cases of burns, five electrocutions and eight accidents resulting in amputations. There were 12 cases of injuries affecting several unspecified body parts and seven cases of eye injuries. In addition to these more serious injuries, more than 170 cases of relatively minor strains or sprains have also been reported.
More than 36 interviews with current and former workers revealed that these injuries are indicative of the breakneck pace Musk set for the company. Musk’s goal is to build a rocket that will take humans to Mars. Tom Moline, a former SpaceX engineer, mentioned that he was among several employees fired after raising concerns about the work environment at SpaceX.
“Elon’s idea that SpaceX is on a mission to get to Mars as quickly as possible and save humanity permeates every part of the company,” Tom Moline told Reuters.
Four astronauts return from the ISS SpaceX capsule
In 2022, the injury rate at SpaceX’s manufacturing and launch site near Brownsville, Texas, stood at 4.8 injuries or illnesses per 100 workers, six times the average of 0.8 in the space industry. At the McGregor, Texas, rocket test center, where an incident involving LeBlanc occurred, the injury rate was 2.7 per 100 workers, more than three times the industry standard. SpaceX’s manufacturing site in Hawthorne, California, reported a rate of 1.8 injuries per 100 workers, more than double the space industry average. At the same time, the Redmond, Washington, plant aligned with the industry average, recording an accident rate of 0.8 per 100 workers, according to the Reuters report.
Other safety concerns have been raised about Musk’s behavior at the facilities, including his use of the company’s flamethrower and his preference for repainting brightly colored machines in more subdued tones, which could potentially impacting security visibility. Musk’s aversion to bright colors led to workers not wearing bright yellow safety vests when he was on site.
SpaceX responded to OSHA’s requests, saying it provided workers with safety training and was not responsible for the injuries. The company emphasizes that engineers are responsible for all aspects of their components and systems.
(With inputs from Reuters)