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Do you share your workspace with robots?

With rapidly advancing technology, the use of robotic equipment has become par for the course in almost all manufacturing industries in Central Pennsylvania. Robots bring automation, faster processes, improved production and additional safety hazards. If your co-worker is of the robotic kind, you could benefit from learning about the safety protocols your employer must have in place.

Along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Safety and Health Institute and the American National Standards Institute work continuously to evaluate robot-related work injury safety hazards and establish standards to mitigate them. With every technological advancement in robotics comes new risks to assess and incorporate in safety standards.

Most frequently reported robot-related workplace accidents

Based on work accident statistics, OSHA identified the following four types of workplace accidents to which you could fall victim:

  • Mechanical part accidents: This category involves broken down drive components, faulty end-of-arm tooling effectors and peripheral equipment, and power source faults. Mechanical failures can cause the unanticipated release of parts, gripper failure, end-effector malfunctions and more.
  • Trapping and crushing accidents: Beware, your limbs, hands or other body parts can become trapped between any of the peripheral equipment and the robot's arm. The robot could also drive you into other equipment, and the resulting crushing injuries can cause catastrophic injuries or even death.
  • Collision or impact accidents: Malfunctioning robots can make unpredicted movements or unanticipated changes to the program responsible for the robot's arm movements or the path of the peripheral equipment. Contact accidents can cause severe injuries.
  • Other accidents: Under this category, OSHA lists accidents caused by the power supply and control equipment. The hazards include potential electrical accidents and those involving pressurized fluids.

Guarding methods

Depending on the type of robot, the hazards it poses and the amount of human interaction, safety authorities require your employers to install the following safeguards:

  • Presence detectors: These include light curtains and pressure mats that will detect your presence if you step into the area deemed hazardous near the robot.
  • Fixed barrier guard: This barrier prevents entry altogether unless you have the necessary tools to remove the fence.
  • Interlocked barrier guard: This barrier prevents entry into the dangerous area around the robot with a set of interlocking gates. All robotic operations will cease upon the opening of any one of the gates.
  • Awareness barrier: This guard takes the form of a suspended chain or a low railing to define the safety perimeter. It does not prevent entry but serves to prevent unintended entry.

Even if robots are not yet a part of your work environment, that day might come sooner than you expect. Knowing potential hazards could give you an advantage and keep you out of the hospital.

However, just like any other work-related injury, those caused by robots qualify for workers' compensation benefits to cover your medical expenses and lost wages. You might be eligible for additional benefits of your injury caused permanent disability.

What about third-party claims?

An experienced Pennsylvania workers' compensation can examine the circumstances of the workplace accident and determine whether other entities not linked to your employer might be deemed responsible. If a robot malfunction, defect or incorrectly programmed cycle caused your injuries, you might have grounds to pursue additional damage recovery through the civil justice system.

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