Safety Hazards with Robotics

Source: ktsdesign - 123RF

The use of robots in the workplace has brought safety in certain situations, but hazards and accidents have occurred.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries has released safety recommendations for laser-guided forklifts and demolition robots, as part of its FACE program.

Two construction workers were severely injured in separate incidents involving remote controlled-demolition machines also known as demolition robots.

Workers operated similar machines with three-part articulating arms powered by electric-controlled hydraulics. Both used remote controllers intended to keep them outside the machine’s risk zone, which varies by specific machine, attachment, and task.

According to Scott Earnest, PhD, writing for NIOSH, “Unanticipated hazards and consequences associated with the use of robots may be particularly significant because of the characteristics of traditional construction projects: ever-changing work environments, the need for multiple skilled craftsmen working on a project, multiple employers sharing a common worksite, and the interactions among many pieces of automated equipment.”

The FACE program recommendations include:

  • Prepare a job hazard analysis with operators for each new job to identify and control hazards. Use the manufacturer’s safety instructions to establish the risk zone for the specific machine, attachment, and task;
  • Always stay outside the risk zone when the machine is in operation (Figure 1), and do not enter until the machine is put into emergency stop mode or de-energized;
  • Consider using a proximity warning system, such as those based on radio frequency identification (RFID), to maintain a safe worker-to-machine distance;
  • Train operators to manage power cables and to continually monitor the process for hazards and redefine the risk zone;
  • Ensure operators always read and follow the manufacturer’s provided safety instructions; and
  • Consider using a spotter to assist the operator.

According to NIOSH, currently, there is a lack of standard classification codes for robot-related injuries, which makes it hard to identify the frequency of incidents.

To begin to solve this, NIOSH established the Center for Occupational Robotic Research to increase worker safety while using robots.

The center is building a research portfolio that includes efforts to document risk to workers through surveillance and fatality investigations.

Washington state is one of seven states that operates its own FACE program. The Centers for Disease Control oversees a national program that covers all states.