Friday is a big day for space exploration enthusiasts, because then the second test flight of the Starship rocket can take place. However, Elon Musk also has worries on his mind today other than the success of this test. Former employees accuse one of his companies of violating basic safety rules in the workplace, which allegedly led to serious accidents. The case was investigated by investigative journalists from Reuters.
SpaceX’s Starship rocket is intended to take humans back to the Moon and will have another test flight on Friday. The machine – the most powerful ever designed – will rise to an altitude of 234 kilometers and begin orbiting the Earth. Then it will fall into the Pacific Ocean.
The first test flight of the mega-rocket seven months ago ended in failure, but after making dozens of modifications, Elon Musk’s company received the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration for another attempt.
In the shadow of this event, which the entire world of space enthusiasts is waiting for, Musk is facing serious allegations from former employees of one of his companies. It’s about the approach to safety in the workplace. – Working at SpaceX is not safe. I’m telling you what I saw, says Florentino Rios, a former SpaceX employee.
Rios not only saw it, he experienced it. Two years ago, he suffered a serious injury while working at a manufacturing and launch facility in Brownsville, Texas. The case was reviewed by Reuters.
– I crouched down to screw in the screw, but only the tip went in. So I started signaling to the crane operator, but he didn’t look at me. I heard a bang. I was hit by something and I shouted to my friend that I had lost an eye, Rios said.
Musk was allegedly bothered by the color of his protective clothing
Reuters describes that the man was examined at a SpaceX medical facility and found fit to continue working. He was told to come back for the next shift. However, Rios was taken to hospital at his own request. Doctors told him he would probably never regain sight in one eye.
– I also lost hearing in one ear. I don’t remember many things. This had a huge impact on my mind. My neck also hurts terribly. Right after the accident, I also had a damaged hip, says a former SpaceX employee.
The 55-year-old claims that he repeatedly asked the management for walkie-talkies and better lighting for the team. Journalists reported that, through an independent investigation, they documented a total of 600 employee accidents at the Brownsville facility – these are unofficial statistics.
– Elon Musk, and especially SpaceX, is working on novel, innovative technologies and helping the government implement its space program, but this does not exempt him from obeying the law or absolve him from ensuring a safe workplace for employees – emphasizes Jordan Barab, former deputy secretary of the Administration Health Protection and Occupational Safety.
Elon Musk also allegedly instructed SpaceX employees not to wear protective clothing because he was bothered by their color. Business Insider reports that three former SpaceX executives told Reuters that Musk had the machines repainted from the safety signal yellow to black or blue because he didn’t like their appearance. Former supervisors also said some employees were told not to wear yellow reflective vests while Musk was on site.
Lawsuit against the company
Reuters has reached out to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration for comment. However, the government agency tasked with inspecting workplaces did not comment on the reports and did not respond to the suggestion to increase the number of inspections at Musk’s company.
– Forcing workers to do more dangerous work than they should can lead to worker injury or death. This sounds like a potentially dangerous work environment and is something this institution should address, says Jordan Barab.
Florentino Rios sued SpaceX and demands damages. He claims that his impairment is the result of the company’s negligence. – He cannot support his family, he cannot earn money, he is a shadow of the man he once was. What will his life be like? He is only 55 years old. We are all thinking about how to help him now, but there is no reason to be optimistic, says Richard Hinojosa, Florentino Rios’ lawyer.
According to court files reviewed by Reuters journalists, the space company is blaming the former employee for the health damage. Already last year, some SpaceX employees wrote an open letter in which they complained about Musk’s behavior. They claimed that his activity on social media and controversial, often discriminatory posts cause embarrassment and distract the team’s attention, which is particularly disturbing in the context of a space company that closely cooperates with the government.
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Main photo source: PAP/EPA/CHRIS J. RATCLIFFE/POOL