Industrial robot safety under review – Business Insurance

The rise of industrial robots by automakers and other sectors has helped improve overall productivity and workplace safety, but companies need to assess the risks of the robots they use to ensure adequate safety is in place, experts say.

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, that interact directly with workers in a shared workspace are increasingly being used in manufacturing facilities and require close monitoring and safety monitoring.

The use of Amazon’s robots in its warehouses in recent years, the investigation of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration and several media organizations shows the number of serious injuries among workers in the places where the robots live. to be sent.

And the story of a robot breaking a 7-year-old boy’s finger while playing chess at a tournament in Moscow in July illustrates how the interaction between a robot and a nearby human can lead to injury.

A University of Pittsburgh study released in July found that robots can reduce the risk of workplace injuries but said workers with robots are more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

The belief is that there is greater efficiency and better productivity when humans and robots work together, said Brian Kramer, industrial companies head at Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut.

There are several types of robotics jobs, including robotic devices that place boxes on a mat, versus a worker lifting the boxes; mobile robots that carry goods, instead of picking and carrying by hand; and cobots that perform repetitive and dangerous tasks, sometimes working on land in a very precise way, Mr. Kramer said.

Robots provide unique features, but they also prevent workplace injuries, although this may be difficult to quantify, he said.

In the past, robots were designed to be confined to workers, but in the last 10 years that has changed to cobots and workers working side-by-side, said Daniel Hornback, Atlanta-based work compensation/fleet LOB leader at Zurich Resilience Solutions, The opinion of the company Zurich Insurance Group Ltd.

At this time, sensors and other technological devices designed to prevent injuries have advanced, “whether it is a proximity device, or a device that detects the presence of a person that can detect that a person has entered a place so that (the robot) can move slowly to a safe place. or off mode depending on how they’re made,” Hornback said.

The biggest safety concern is an employee who steps into an “envelope” or robot type, said Christina Villena, vice president of risk management at Hanover Insurance Group Inc., in Worcester, Massachusetts. “If there isn’t some kind of protection, whether it’s a sensor on the ground or a guardrail near the robot, there could be an injury in the form of a collision with the worker,” said Ms. Villena.

There have been some incidents of workers being pinned down by robots, but these usually happen during non-routine situations, such as during maintenance or repair of robots, he said.

OSHA found only 48 incidents of robot-related accidents between 1984 and 2021, while National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health researchers found 61 robot-related deaths between 1992 and 2015 based on an analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Fatal Occupational Index. Injuries database. NIOSH researchers are in the process of updating this analysis, according to a spokesperson.

Many people don’t give robots the respect they deserve, especially when it comes to safety, said David Barry, Overland Park, Kansas-National Director for casualty risk control at Willis Towers Watson PLC.

“All robots know and complete a program. Unfortunately, people will accidentally enter the environment where the robots are because they do not have the training and procedures that are established to know that the level of closure is working for the robots,” he said (see related article).

Problems can also arise if the machine is designed incorrectly, Barry said. “I’ve seen some cases where advanced electronic security devices like light curtains or proximity sensors or door closers can be part of the machine, but not connected to the robot, so that someone drops the light curtain and the robot continues to work,” he said.

Many employers struggle to ensure that their security systems and equipment work together to stop a machine if a sensor is tripped, Barry said.

When it comes to workplace accidents involving robots, most have to do with workplace design and human behavior, said Edmund Cordova, senior risk management consultant in Houston at Lockton Cos. LLC.

“If we go back and talk about the various incidents, they are often due to human error, regulatory issues, unauthorized access, mechanical hazards and environmental hazards,” said Mr. Cordova.

With cobots the process, volume and speed at which work is carried out quickly, can cause injuries that are not related to the robot, he said.

There are currently no specific OSHA standards for the robotics industry, although various safety guidelines and documents are available online, experts said.

Other organizations, including the American National Standards Institute, the International Organization for Standardization and the Robotic Industry Association, provide all the standards related to robotics and safety.

Studies, risk assessment reduce the number of claims

Employee training and risk assessment are critical to preventing robot-related injuries, experts say.

Training is essential for any employee who will work near robots, said David Barry, Overland Park, Kansas-based director of national risk control at Willis Towers Watson PLC.

“You can’t take for granted that everyone understands how a robot works, what its failures are and what its safety expectations are,” Barry said.

Employee time issues, said Brian Kramer, who heads Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut.

“Hartford looks at what it has, we know unemployed workers, who have a year or less, drive about a third of the demand for all our products. This comes from education,” he said.

Risk assessment is also important, Mr. Kramer said. Hartford’s risk engineers work with manufacturers to assess the risks and potential consequences of deploying robots, he said.

Robotics manufacturers will have better ways to manage the safety and maintenance of a particular type of robot, said Christina Villena, vice president of risk solutions at Hanover Insurance Group Inc., based in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Hanover also collaborates with third-party companies to help determine the best ways to reduce the risk of a particular robot in the workplace, Ms. Villena.

“We provide this service at no cost to policyholders,” he said.