At least a dozen employees at Rivian have accused the electric-vehicle maker of safety violations at its Illinois plant, according to complaints filed with federal regulators. The complaints allege the company ignored known hazards and de-prioritized safety resources, leaving some workers to share respirators needed during the manufacturing process. They also detail a range of injuries, including a crushed hand, a broken foot, a sliced ear, and broken ribs. One Rivian employee said management fished damaged electrical cables out of the garbage and told employees to use them.
Together, the filings depict an automaker that cut corners as it scaled rapidly to keep pace in the competitive electric-vehicle space. Some employees described safety protocols that faded as production pressures grew on its trademark plug-in pickup truck.
“There’s a certain level of danger involved in manufacturing,” Don Jackson, one of the employees who filed a complaint, said in an interview. “But I was expecting safety to be a little more prioritized.”
In statements to Bloomberg News, a Rivian spokesperson disputed workers’ allegations but declined to comment on specific complaints, citing employee privacy. The spokesperson said the dozen complainants represent just 0.2 per cent of the 6,700 employees at the plant.
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“Creating a safe and inspiring environment is a daily practice we expect of every Rivian employee and is part of our operating procedures,” the company said in an emailed statement, adding: “We are not aware of any manager directing employees to share respirators.”
The allegations were filed over the past two months with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and are directed at the automaker’s only operational plant, in Normal, Illinois. All 12 employees, one of whom has since left Rivian, filed their complaints in coordination with the United Auto Workers union, which has been trying to organize Rivian plant workers over the past year. The UAW shared the filings with Bloomberg News.
Several of the complaints describe hazards that did not result in injury, but that employees feared would. Jackson, who joined the company in March, said in his complaint that “trucks frequently veer into pedestrian aisles” and bulldoze racks in a manner that could cause them to accidentally strike people.
There have been “many near misses” with powered industrial vehicles nearly hitting people, wrote Kailey Harvey, another employee. Sensors meant to display whether trucks were correctly locked in place sometimes give false readings because they aren’t calibrated to the height of the vehicles, she wrote.
“At first, it was really great,” Harvey, a former UAW member who joined Rivian last year, said in an interview. “Slowly, as production kept climbing, the concern for safety dropped.”
In a short period of time, Irvine, California-based Rivian has recruited an army of engineers, vehicle assembly technicians, and factory floor managers from legacy automotive names like Ford and General Motors, mostly at its flagship plant in Normal, which is capable of building 150,000 electric vehicles a year. Rivian quickly emerged as a viable challenger in the EV market dominated by Tesla and a few legacy automakers, attracting keen interest from an A-list of Wall Street investors and strategic backers like Ford and Amazon. The company’s initial public offering last November was the sixth biggest in U.S. history.
OSHA concerns about safety at fledgling EV-makers — driven by worker complaints — are not new. In 2018, California regulators probed Tesla’s workplace safety as the market leader dramatically ramped up production of its first mass market vehicle.
OSHA currently has open investigations into seven complaints at the Normal plant, an agency spokesperson said. Previously, the regulator issued four “serious” citations against Rivian, including three from earlier this year that ended in settlements with the agency.
Rivian has spent millions of dollars on safety and has a team of more than 70 safety, health and environmental professionals, a spokesperson said, adding that the company conducts routine trainings and inspections.
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