“NASA should be concerned.”

Space Wrecks

Working in manufacturing always comes with occupational hazards, but according to a new review, those who work at SpaceX’s facilities experience injuries at rates far higher than industry averages.

Per a Reuters analysis, SpaceX’s launch-and-manufacturing facilities had between five and nine times as many injuries as would be typical last year.

The news wire’s analysis came from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 2023 newly released records from SpaceX, the most comprehensive yet from the Elon Musk-owned company that builds rockets for NASA. In 2022, Reuters notes, the company only gave injury reports from five facilities, and before that, it didn’t provide any records of the kind at all, which makes it hard to parse just how longstanding the issue is.

At SpaceX’s facility in Brownsville, Texas, for instance, the company reported 5.9 injuries per 100 workers in 2023, up from 4.8 in 2022. A unit that retrieves its spent rocket boosters from the Pacific Ocean, meanwhile, had 7.6 injuries per 100 employees, which is more than nine times the industry average of 0.8.

Quality Control

Building off Reuters‘ prior reporting on more than 600 previously undisclosed SpaceX worker injuries from last year, these figures are troubling enough on their own. But they also, as former OSHA administrator David Michaels told the outlet, could be “an indicator of poor production quality.”

Now an occupational health professor at the George Washington University, Michaels told Reuters that “NASA should be concerned about the quality of the work” if SpaceX’s injury rates are this high.

In its breakdown, the outlet found huge differentails in safety between its facilities. Even its East Coast rocket recovery team, which serves the same purpose as its West Coast counterpart by retrieving rocket boosters from the Atlantic, had significantly fewer injuries per 100 workers than both that team and the Brownsville factory’s, while its Redmond, Washington factory came in with just 1.5 injuries per 100 workers, the lowest of the bunch.

Curiously, it appears, per an automated X-formerly-Twitter bot that posts space jobs, that the company has also just opened a new position for an environmental health and safety engineer in Texas — so maybe the company is looking to fix its safety problems after all.

When asked about these figures, SpaceX, naturally, did not respond to Reuters‘ request for comment.

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