Safety Hazards of Robots in the WorkplaceJanuary 18, 2019
The robots that are used in factories, warehouses, and other work environments in the United States bear little resemblance to the robots that are depicted in science fiction movies and novels. While industrial robots have been used for decades to carry out tasks that are generally unappealing or particularly hazardous to humans, recent advances in technology have made them more diverse and able to function collaboratively with human workers.
In 2017 alone, approximately 250,000 robotic machines were installed in workplaces across the country, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). However, some of the robotic machines pose serious risks to workers if the robot malfunctions or does not have the sensory ability to detect a human worker in the vicinity.
Workers Injured at Amazon Warehouse
Earlier in December, 24 Amazon warehouse workers were hospitalized after a robot “picker” punctured an aerosol can of bear repellent. The spray contains toxic amounts of capsaicin, a compound that is found in peppers, which is used to protect hikers from bears.
When the fumes were released from the punctured can, it sprayed the 55 workers in the vicinity. Twenty-four were sent to the hospital, including one who was initially listed as critical. Fortunately, his condition improved, and all of the employees who were hospitalized are expected to make a full recovery.
Robots in the Workplace
When robots were first introduced to the workplace, they were designed to operate a safe distance from workers, as they posed a range of serious hazards to humans. For example, in 1984 a die cast operator was killed when he was pinned between a hydraulic robot and a steel pole.
In response to that tragic accident, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published safety strategies that involved physical barriers, sensors, and other protective measures that would help prevent workplace injuries.
The NIOSH also established the Center for Occupational Robotics Research in September of 2017, and the RIA is partnering with the NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to share their expertise and raise awareness of safety concerns.
Risks of Working with Collaborative Robots
Most collaborative robots have safety measures built into their designs. However, that does not mean that they are safe the moment they are out of the box. They must be properly configured and programmed before they can be used safely.
There are additional safety risks based on the specific task they are meant to be used for, and the environment in which they will perform that task. Also, every collaborative robot system is unique, which means that they require specific risk assessments in order to ensure their safety. It is very important that these be done before installation, as well as during and after installation.
As more of these robotic machines are used in close proximity to humans, there could be a spike in workplace injuries. Employers should provide the appropriate training for all employees who will be working in the vicinity of a collaborative robot.
If a worker is injured by a robot, he or she may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims Injured by Industrial Robots
If you have injured in a workplace accident involving an industrial robot, contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.