Industrial robots offer numerous invaluable benefits for businesses, but safety is critical for success. Like any tool or piece of equipment, robots can be just as hazardous as they are useful. Industrial robot safety precautions are crucial to ensure everyone working with and around robots is not in danger. These precautions will vary from one business and robot to another. However, there are some core steps that all organizations should take to ensure industrial robot safety.
While industrial robots can pose some safety hazards, they also improve workplace safety. In fact, this is often the main motivator for organizations to adopt robots.
Industrial robots frequently take over tasks that would otherwise be dangerous or strenuous for people to perform. For example, one 2020 study found that workplace injuries are reduced by 16% in workplaces that adopt robots. When the proper precautions are taken, robots can make a workplace less dangerous and stressful.
Industrial robots perform all kinds of tasks that improve workplace safety. For example, a warehouse robot might move heavy cases that could result in back injuries if a human tried to move them. Similarly, a welding robot protects employees from dangerous fumes and electrical hazards.
On construction sites, drones are used to inspect areas that would be dangerous for humans to enter. In manufacturing, industrial robotic arms automate assembly line steps that involve dangerous tools or processes.
Of course, robots do require careful measures to make sure no one gets hurt working around them. It is important to remember that robots are completely automated, even if movies make them out to be friendly and human-like. Robots may not be aware of the activity going on around them. If a courier robot runs into an employee, it is most likely because the employee was not acting in a safe manner around the robot. These steps will ensure the hazards industrial robots pose don’t needlessly endanger anyone.
The first thing any organization needs for effective industrial robot safety is the right infrastructure and mechanisms. These may even be included or built into the robot. For example, many robots have an emergency stop mechanism. This could be a button, switch, or even an automated function if the robot has the right sensors.
Depending on the type of robot, an organization might need to add its own safety mechanisms as well. One example is a passcode requirement to operate the robot. This prevents unauthorized personnel from starting up the robot in situations where it could potentially endanger someone.
Similarly, industrial robot safety often calls for structures to protect both the robot and employees. Certain types of robots, such as large industrial robot arms, frequently need to be caged off with physical barriers. These robots are operated remotely or autonomously and stay in one spot. So, there’s no need for anyone to get close to the robot except for maintenance.
A fence or wall around the robot prevents anyone from wandering too close and potentially being injured while the robot is operating. Some organizations even have sensors in the fencing gate or on the floor around the safety perimeter that will automatically power off the robot when someone steps too close.
Preparing a workplace for an industrial robot is a bit like child-proofing a house. Every aspect of the workplace must be considered so the right industrial robot safety precautions can be taken. Maybe the robot will be working in an area that is often crowded, for example. This area needs to be rerouted or reorganized so that crowding doesn’t occur.
Even little things need to be considered, such as wires that run across the floor that could jam a robot’s wheels. Is the robot in an area that will be easy for safety officers to monitor? Is the work area lit well enough for the robot’s sensors to operate correctly? Is the work area spacious enough for the robot and any safety structures it will need?
For example, warehouse robots are great, but if walkways inside the warehouse are too cramped, the robot won’t be able to maneuver around.
These types of questions need to be carefully analyzed. The entire work environment the robot will be exposed to should be assessed and inspected for potential safety risks. This will allow safety officers to prepare accordingly.
Maintenance can be a complex part of industrial robot safety. On one hand, regular maintenance is absolutely critical to ensure the safe operation of a robot. On the other hand, maintenance can actually be quite dangerous itself if not handled correctly. After all, maintenance is often required specifically when a robot is not working properly. This increases the risk of injury when working around it, even if that work is a repair.
Industry leaders have stressed that mechanics and electricians are the most in danger of being injured by an industrial robot. Accidents happen to these people during maintenance far more than accidents happen during regular operations. As a result, more and more organizations and robot manufacturers are taking steps to protect maintenance workers. For example, a robot might be redesigned so that it doesn’t need power for components to be tuned. Power running to an industrial robot during maintenance is a common cause of maintenance-related accidents.
Predictive maintenance is also important for industrial robot safety. This type of maintenance consists of smaller, anticipatory check-ups to prevent a major breakdown. Larger issues require more intensive maintenance to repair, which is typically more dangerous than a simple tune-up.
Even with all of the above industrial robot safety measures in place, few things improve safety as well as effective training. A well-designed training program can empower employees to improve their own safety habits on a daily basis. When the people working around an industrial robot know exactly how it functions and what safety hazards are at play, they are much less likely to display risky behavior.
There is a reason workplace accidents are called accidents. Far too often, robot-related injuries occur simply because someone did not have the right industrial robot safety training. Knowledge can be the difference between a safe workplace and a dangerous one. Safety training can also prepare employees to respond properly if a malfunction or accident does ever occur on the job.
It is important to note, though, that safety training has to be designed properly to be effective. Studies have shown that the more engaging safety training is, the more effective it will be. So, a lecture or safety pamphlet won’t cut it. Organizations need to get employees actively involved in the training program. Any number of methods could be used to achieve this, from hands-on training to virtual-reality simulations.
The important part is that employees are participating in the training program. This helps improve recall of what was taught and helps motivate employees to act on what they learned.
Industrial robots bring numerous advantages and benefits to the organizations that adopt them. However, without proper safety preparation, industrial robots can represent a serious workplace hazard. Everyone working around a robot needs to be aware of the potential risks so they can stay safe on the job.
Without the right training and precautions, someone could get seriously hurt around an industrial robot. By taking steps to prepare the work environment as well as employees, organizations can ensure industrial robots improve safety rather than endanger it.