A new report details how businesses can use robotics to enhance worker safety by assessing its risks, identifying solutions and readying the workplace for use of the new technology.
The National Safety Council’s (NSC) Work to Zero initiative’s Improving Workplace Safety with Robotics report analyzed academic journals, vendor interviews and company case studies to evaluate the benefits of robotics and autonomous mobile robots (AMR) on reducing injuries and fatalities in the workplace.
This report also provides best practices that employers can follow to use robotics across a range of different workplaces.
Five of the most common robot configurations available to employers are identified and assessed in the report – AMRs, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), articulated robots, humanoid robots and cobots.
4 ways robots can keep workers safe
NSC found that this technology can be ideal in manufacturing settings “where repetitive, high-volume production is necessary.” The report also identifies several other examples on how the use of robotics can create safer outcomes for workers, including:
- inspecting confined spaces and industrial facilities, especially in the construction, mining and logging industries
- transporting parts, goods and materials combined with the use of sensors and computer vision to minimize the risk of human-machine collisions
- using robotic arms for precision cutting and welding and for handling toxic, high temperature or explosive materials, and
- machine tending and parts repositioning by using robotic arms and AMRs to reduce the risks of manual machine handling.
Further, the adoption of robotic technology “can help employers mitigate the risk of workplace musculoskeletal disorders, prevent falls from heights and reduce worker muscle fatigue,” according to the report.
Barriers include cost, disruption of worksites, fear of replacement
However, there are still several barriers to widespread adoption of robotics, including:
- cost of implementation and ongoing maintenance, and
- the potential that some configurations could disrupt certain work environments or require additional safety technologies to effectively mitigate risk.
Despite the many benefits of the technology, these barriers underscore the fact that “employers must tailor their robotic technology to meet their unique safety needs and drive the return on investment.”
The report points out that “there is also an enduring concern that robotics or other technology may eventually replace human workers.” However, researchers found that “increased automation may help businesses reduce costs overall, which can lead to increased investments and the creation of new jobs in other areas, especially in engineering, maintenance and programming.” Although, this would require employers to address the situation by using retraining and reskilling programs for displaced workers.