Burned contract worker sues Tesla after electrical explosion: 2 Investigates

A contractor employee involved in an electrical explosion at Tesla’s Fremont factory filed a lawsuit against the company Monday, accusing the carmaker of a pattern of unsafe work conditions. The accident happened June 5, 2017, resulting in second and third degree burns over 36-year-old Son Nguyen’s entire body. Nguyen is accusing Tesla of creating the dangerous situation that lead to his injuries.

“I want to have safer work practice place for employees or any employees. I don’t want anyone to go through what I have to go through every day,” Nguyen told 2 Investigates.

Hospital photos show Nguyen after the accident covered in bandages. He was hospitalized for two months. Nearly a year later, Nguyen is still covered with compression clothing and trying to regain mobility. 

Nguyen was an electrician trainee with Mark III Construction, a Tesla contractor. The day of the accident, Nguyen says he was installing charging station equipment at the Fremont location when he suddenly woke up 15-20 feet away with his clothes on fire. According to the investigation report by the California Occupations Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA), Nguyen “was wiring in a bus plug on top of an automotive oven… when an arc flash occurred.” State investigators believe the ground wire fell and made contact with live wires, according to the report. 

“I was on fire. All my clothes were just gone. I was yelling for help,” remembered Nguyen. “The people at the hospital were surprised I survived.”

Since Nguyen was an employee of a contractor, OSHA investigated Mark III, not Tesla, in the case. OSHA cited Mark III for safety-related issues. No citations were issued against Tesla.

But Nguyen’s attorneys Anthony Label and Annie Wu say, before the accident,  a request was made to Tesla to de-energize the electrical equipment Nguyen was working on, but Tesla refused the request. 

“It is our understanding Tesla’s refusal is based on not wanting to slow down production speed,” said Label. 

2 Investigates reached out to Tesla for comment. A spokesperson sent the following statement: 

"Whether a safety issue involves our employees or third-party contractors who are working onsite, we take the matter very seriously. The contractor who was injured in this accident worked for and was supervised by Mark III Construction, a company with more than 40 years of experience that we hired to provide licensed electricians who could help wire and install specific equipment within the factory. 
 
When this incident occurred almost a year ago, we conducted a thorough investigation and discovered that Mark III had not followed proper safety protocols and regulations. Specifically, it failed to use important protective equipment and electric safety verification, including personal safety locks, which would have prevented this accident from occurring. Because this was not acceptable to us, we removed Mark III from the factory following this incident. California OSHA’s review of the matter reached the same conclusion, and no citations were issued against Tesla.
 
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.
 
Last year, despite significantly increasing our vehicle production, we reduced our injury rate by more than 20%. Through a lot of hard work and with our engaged workforce, our injury rate is half what it was in the final years GM and Toyota owned and ran the same Fremont factory before it closed and Tesla reopened it. While one injury is too many, we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure we are the safest factory in the world.”

In its report, OSHA said Nguyen was not qualified to work unsupervised, he didn’t have a proper safety gear and there wasn’t a “sufficient barrier” to protect him from the energized equipment. Tesla says it has since imposed even stricter controls on its part, and no similar incidents have occurred. 

Mark III Construction has not yet responded to 2 Investigates’ multiple request for comment. It is also not listed as a defendant in Nguyen’s lawsuit. 

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