Introduced to many assembly lines in the 1970s, automated or “robotic” workers have quickly become a staple in countless production facilities. While advances in both technology and artificial intelligence continue to be made, no workplace will ever be 100% safe.
An automated workforce can reduce employee risks by completing tasks in hazardous environments that might otherwise lead to toxic exposure or performing repetitive tasks that might lead to stress injuries in their human counterparts. Unfortunately, a robotic workforce can also introduce new types of workplace injuries.
OSHA has identified four types of hazards specifically tied to working alongside industrial robots:
- Injuries from collisions: Human workers can be struck by their robotic counterparts in numerous ways. Whether the robot is traveling along a pre-determined path and makes an unpredictable turn, or a control arm swings unexpectedly, workers can be struck and injured.
- Injuries from crushing movements: It is not uncommon for a collision to occur near a wall or a piece of stationary heavy machinery. When this happens, the worker can become trapped between the robot and the other object. This can lead to crush injuries impacting a limb or the entire body.
- Injuries from mechanical failure: Robots rely on mechanical efficiency to perform their tasks properly. Unfortunately, mechanical failure is destined to occur. From breakdowns in the drivetrain to the failure of a gripper arm, human workers are at risk from unpredictable failures.
- Injuries from chemical exposure: Accidents can range from high-pressure leaks, metal splatter or electrical arcing. This type of exposure can result in blinding, deafness or skin damage.
While rapid advances continue to be made, it is crucial that managers and supervisors stress the importance of a safe workplace. The benefits of an automated workforce are clear, but the hazards to their human co-workers remain significant.