OSHA Provides Updated Guidance On Robotics Safety
Increasingly, U.S. industries are using robotic technologies to perform dangerous or repetitive tasks, and these systems are becoming more collaborative and mobile in nature. The commercial cleaning industry is no exception, notably for floor equipment in larger-scale facilities. While these advances add new capabilities to work and the workplace, they also introduce new workplace hazards for those who work with, and alongside them.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Association for Advancing Automation (formerly the Robotic Industries Association) formed an alliance to share technical knowledge, improve awareness about workplace hazards and appropriate safeguards, and identify needed research on the use of traditional industrial and emerging collaborative robotic technologies.
Recently, the alliance updated and expanded a chapter in the OSHA Technical Manual on Industrial Robot Systems and Industrial Robot System Safety. The collective effort has made significant updates to the manual, including up-to-date technical information on the hazards associated with industrial and emergent robot applications, safety considerations for employers and workers, and risk assessments and risk reduction measures.
The manual serves to guide OSHA compliance officers as they perform inspections at facilities with robotic systems, and provides a technical resource for safety and health professionals overseeing the use of robotic systems in workplaces.
"We value the efforts and expertise of the engineers at the Association for Advancing Automation and the researchers at NIOSH to enhance this important resource," says assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas Parker. "Robot use will continue to expand, and employers have a responsibility to assess the hazards these new applications may introduce, and implement appropriate safety controls to protect the workers who operate and service them."
The World Robotics 2021 Industrial Robots report estimates currently that more than 310,000 industrial robots now operate in U.S. factories. The continuing rise of robotics increases the risks associated with robotic systems' hazards such as struck-by/caught-between, crushing and trapping, electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic and environmental.
"Our trade association has made the safety of people working around robots our top priority for nearly four decades," says Association for Advancing Automation president Jeff Burnstein. "That's why we developed R15.06 – the first industrial robot safety standard — in the early 1980s, and have regularly updated the standard as technology has improved. We are honored to be a part of the alliance with OSHA and NIOSH, to work together to get this vital information on safety into the hands of robot system users."
"NIOSH's partnership with OSHA and the Association for Advancing Automation is vital to addressing the rapid advances in robotics technologies in the workplace," says NIOSH director John Howard, M.D. "This updated resource developed with the combined expertise of NIOSH, OSHA and A3, addresses a critical need for the most current information for health and safety professionals about working safely with robots in various workplaces —both those that have traditionally used robotic systems and those introducing new robotic applications."