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Exclusive: Injury rates for Musk's SpaceX exceed industry average for second year

By Marisa Taylor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Injury rates at SpaceX facilities continued to exceed an industry average in 2023, according to a Reuters review of safety data reported to U.S. regulators by the space venture controlled by billionaire Elon Musk.

The 2023 records, newly disclosed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also show that injury rates at some SpaceX facilities grew worse than those the company had reported in 2022. At its manufacturing-and-launch facility in Brownsville, Texas, for instance, SpaceX reported 5.9 injuries per 100 workers, surpassing its rate of 4.8 injuries in 2022 and topping a space industry average of 0.8.

The company's high injury rate last year was the subject of a Reuters investigation that found at least 600 previously unreported worker injuries at the rocket and satellite company. Those injuries, Reuters found, led to crushed limbs, amputations, serious head injuries and one death.

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SpaceX didn't respond to requests from Reuters seeking comment on the latest figures.

Safety experts say the high injury rates should be of concern for SpaceX clients, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. The federal space program has increasingly relied on SpaceX in recent years and as of 2022 had paid the company at least $11.8 billion for various contracts.

"NASA should be concerned about the quality of the work," said David Michaels, a former OSHA administrator who is now a professor at The George Washington University. High injury rates, he added, can be "an indicator of poor production quality."

A NASA spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment.

OSHA didn't respond to questions about SpaceX's injury rate.

Reuters calculated the latest injury rates using data published by OSHA last week. The data for 2023 is the most complete yet provided by SpaceX, which reported injuries from eight major facilities, three more than it had in 2022. In years prior, SpaceX hadn't reported any data for most of its sites, which include manufacturing, launch and other facilities.

At a unit that retrieves rocket boosters in the Pacific Ocean, SpaceX last year reported 7.6 injuries per 100 workers, more than nine times the industry rate.

Neither the company nor Musk, its billionaire founder and chief executive, have publicly addressed SpaceX's safety record in detail.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's chief operating officer, in March reposted a video on social media of emergency chutes being tested at a company site in Florida. Commenting on the video on X, the social media company that's also controlled by Musk, she wrote that "astronaut and personnel safety is SpaceX's highest priority."

(Editing by Paulo Prada)