Seven serious industrial accidents have occurred at the US electric car manufacturer Tesla’s factory in Grünheide near Berlin since 2021. In three cases Tesla employees were affected, in four cases employees of construction or assembly companies on the large construction site, said the Brandenburg Ministry of Social Affairs. The ministry did not classify the numbers as unusual.

The “Stern” reported on a striking number of work accidents. Tesla reported 190 reportable accidents between June and November 2022 – that would be practically every day. The car manufacturer referred to close controls by the authorities. Since opening in March 2022, Tesla has also reported 26 environmental accidents.

Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) was concerned. “In Germany, occupational safety also protects lives in case of doubt and that is why I am deeply concerned about the news that has come to the public about a large company,” Heil told RTL and n-tv. He expects consistent country controls. The left-wing parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch demanded in the “Stern”: “If the conditions cannot be improved quickly, a debate should ultimately be held about revoking the operating license.”

Brandenburg’s Ministry of Social Affairs does not consider the number of serious accidents to be unusual when comparing occupational health and safety controls. “Especially given the size of the company – the largest industrial location in Brandenburg – this is a normal occurrence for us,” said ministry spokesman Gabriel Hesse to the German Press Agency. “We have no indication that an excessive number of occupational health and safety violations are occurring here.” Tesla is checked regularly. Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD) told “Stern” when asked about the accidents that this was not unknown to him, but he referred to Tesla.

Union demands an end to grievances

According to the wood and metal trade association, there were statistically 16 reportable accidents among 1,000 employees at car and car parts manufacturers in 2022. Tesla reported more than 4,000 employees in May 2022. For this number of employees, the statistical number of reportable accidents in the industry would be 64 – significantly less than in the “Stern” report. The cooperative did not provide any figures and emphasized that not all accidents could be attributed to the company. The companies are also different sizes.

The IG Metall union spoke of grievances. “We have been concerned about occupational safety at Tesla in Grünheide for a long time,” said the district manager for Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony, Dirk Schulz. He told “Stern”: “My greatest concern is that someone will die at some point.”

A serious accident at work is an injury that is expected to require more than six weeks of in-patient treatment or permanent physical damage with a claim to accident pension. An accident at work must be reported if an employee is unable to work for more than three days or is killed.

Part of the site in the water protection area

The 26 environmental disasters include spills such as 15,000 liters of paint, 13 tons of aluminum and 50 and 150 liters of diesel. This emerges from data from the State Office for the Environment, which “Stern” reported on and which is also available to the dpa. According to the authorities, the incidents are operational disruptions and not incidents within the meaning of the Major Accidents Ordinance. Part of the site lies in the water protection area.

Tesla admitted that there had been several incidents on the factory site during construction and since it went into operation. However, the company says that none of the incidents was a major accident under the Federal Emissions Control Act and that no incidents caused environmental damage. If necessary, corrective measures were implemented.

The research group leader for ecology and management of rivers and lake shores at the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Martin Pusch, spoke of a fundamentally high risk with regard to drinking water. “There is a high risk of impairment of the drinking water supply due to the low retention capacity of the subsoil,” Pusch told dpa.

When asked by “Stern”, Brandenburg’s Environment Minister Axel Vogel (Greens) admitted that problems had arisen on the factory premises, but saw no danger. When asked whether he could rule out that the groundwater beneath the factory was contaminated, he said, according to “Stern”: “I can rule it out. The monitoring is working.”

Tesla has been manufacturing electric cars in Grünheide since March 2022. Environmentalists and nature conservationists see dangers. According to the company, around 11,000 employees work in the factory, producing around 250,000 vehicles per year. Tesla wants to expand the factory.