Son Nguyen, 37, suffers from severe burns after an electrical explosion at Tesla’s car factory, and is now suing the automaker for allegedly putting him in harm’s way “in order to increase productivity at the expense of human lives.” Nguyen was working as a contractor at the Fremont, California, factory on June 5, 2017, when an “arc flash” explosion threw him back roughly 20 feet, covering him in flames.
Nguyen says Tesla should have cut electricity to the equipment he was working on but refused to. Doing so would have meant temporarily stopping production. Had the company chosen to do so, the burns would have never happened.
Nearly a year later, the worker is still experiencing constant pain and covered in scars and skin grafts. His pinky finger has been amputated and a compression garment covers him from his head to his knees. He also experiences debilitating nerve pain, which Nguyen says feels like “thousands of pins and needles poking you.”
“I don’t want anybody to go through what I went through,” said Nguyen. “I just want Tesla to have a safer workplace for everyone.”
In a statement, Tesla placed the blame on Nguyen’s employer, Mark III Construction, for having “not followed proper safety protocols and regulations.” The statement explained further, “We have extensive protocols to prevent electrical safety injuries, and these protocols must be followed by everyone in the factory, including third-party contractors. Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We have since imposed even stricter controls, and no similar incidents have occurred.”
Safety officials also cited Mark III Construction with violations following the accident. California’s workplace safety agency fined Mark III $52,800. It found serious violations, including having an unqualified person work on energized equipment without supervision and failing to provide protective clothing and equipment. The construction company was also fined for providing “a suitable barrier to prevent accidental contact with energized parts.”
Dan Carlton, president of Mark III, said, “We learned a lot and it was a horrible accident.”
However, the lawsuit indicates Telsa “controlled” the contractor and the safety conditions of the site. It claims Tesla made Nguyen work on energized equipment “with the knowledge of the probable dangerous consequences of prioritizing production numbers over the safety of workers in order to meet (Tesla’s) aggressive production schedule.”
Nguyen is asking for punitive damages because Tesla acted in “conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others.” Nguyen spent two months in the hospital getting skin from his thighs and back grafted onto his arms, chest and neck. It was six months before he could use his hands and he still needs both of them to lift a cup.
“I remember waking up after surgery, all wrapped up,” Nguyen said. “I was just terrified. I thought I was dead.” He added, “When I think about my future I’m really down. I’m not who I used to be.”
A former member of Tesla’s health and safety team sided with Nguyen, saying Tesla should have done more to supervise the contractor and prevent the burns. “What have we done as a company to prevent it? Not a lot,” said the former Tesla safety professional, who requested anonymity. “Are we still exposed to the same hazards? Yes.”