Are Robotics In The Workplace an Increase or a Decrease to Safety?

The idea of a robot taking the first steps into a crumbling building, or checking an area for dangerous radiation is something that has become the norm in today’s workforce. A robot taking the place of a human for a particularly dangerous job is something that almost anyone would agree is a good thing. But do the robotics that we are creating for these tasks, bring a new level of workplace danger that we do not realise?

This is a question that an employer needs to ask his or herself before they commit to the introduction of robotics into their workplace.

In 2015 a worker at a bottling company was killed after attempting to remove debris that had be lodged in the forks of a driverless forklift. The worker removed the debris, which resulted in the forklift resuming its task after the piece was removed. The manufacturers manual states that an emergency stop must be initiated before removing an obstacle, but the worker did not do this.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has stated that since the introduction of robotics into the workplace is so new, the regulations need to be clearer to ensure the safety of the workforce.

“Currently, there is a lack of standard classification codes for robot-related injuries, which makes it hard to identify the frequency of incidents,” NIOSH said. “Additionally, worker injury data systems do not include detailed information on how a robot-related fatality or injury incident occurred.”

The Washington State Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program recommends the following to prevent injuries and potential fatalities:

  • Incorporate manufacturer safety requirements into written company safety procedures for automated guided industrial vehicles.

  • Train workers about the specific hazards and safety requirements associated with automated guided industrial vehicles, such as LGVs.

  • Emphasize that workers are expected to follow required safety procedures every time, and ensure compliance through periodic refresher training and spot checks.

The reality is that robotics will become a larger part of the workforce in the coming years and humans working alongside them will become commonplace. Employees need to be properly trained as well as reminded with proper training materials, signage and tags to ensure that the partnership with humans and robotics is a safe one.

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