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Will Robotic Co-Workers Cause More Workplace Injuries?

Mark E. Moreland, Attorney at Law April 30, 2021

For decades, numerous industries have worked toward automating certain tasks that might prove too repetitive or dangerous for human workers. From contact with toxic materials to repeatedly lifting heavy objects, a robotic workforce is often designed to reduce threats. Unfortunately, it is likely that automation might introduce as many injury types as are prevented.

An automated workforce relies on robotic parts and acute computer programming. Mechanical failures or faulty programming can lead to catastrophic injuries, including crush injuries, pinch injuries, shock injuries or chemical spray injuries.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed recommendations centered on preventing the injury of workers by robots. These recommendations can be broken down into three categories: design, training, supervision.

The Design of Robotic Systems

As organizations evaluate the robotic systems that are currently in place and design new automated systems, NIOSH recommends numerous features, including:

  • The inclusion of physical barriers and safety shields between the robotic and the human workforces

  • The inclusion of electrical or programming barriers that serve to stop a robot when the worker gets too close. These barriers can be floor sensors, motion sensors, light curtains or other electrical interlocks.

  • The inclusion of proper signage and floor markings indicating the intended movement path or reach capacity of the robot.

The Training of Human Workers

Whether programming, maintaining or operating the robots, the human workforce should be thoroughly trained in both the safe operation of their automated counterparts and how to avoid danger.

  • Workers must be familiar with the full range of motion, known hazards and any emergency stop features.

  • Workers must be trained to avoid pinch points such as poles, walls and other equipment that might be encountered during the robot’s movement through its operational area.

The Supervision of Human Workers

Supervisors must be trained to ensure the correct operation of the automated workforce as well as the continued safety of the humans on the jobsite. From constant supervision to compiling a maintenance log, supervisors can provide the information and instruction necessary to keep workers safe.

With an increasing reliance on a robotic workforce, many occupations now require human workers to operate alongside automation. Whether it is a factory setting or work on a construction site, workplace accidents can lead to catastrophic injuries. If you were injured on the job, it is wise to explore your options to receive workers’ compensation benefits.