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The online retail giant Amazon has hit the headlines for its new safety measure to protect workers from robots.
Traditionally, safety measures involved physical barriers keeping automated systems apart from workers. What happens, then, when cages and fences are no longer necessary because robots are designed to be interactive, or even mobile?

Robots have been in workplaces for decades, typically having powerful automated arms that perform tasks such as welding, painting or assembly within the confines of an enclosure. In ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ roles automated systems offer considerable safety benefits to human workers. Robots can help prevent injuries or adverse health effects resulting from working in hazardous conditions. They also minimize risks caused by human error.

More recently we have seen a rise of professional service robots, collaborative robots (or cobots) who work side by side with workers, and mobile autonomous robots in a wide range of industries.

As these next-generation robots open new possibilities, their increasing interactivity and mobility pose significant safety implications for their human co-workers.

The online retail giant Amazon recently hit the headlines for its new safety measure to protect workers from robots. Amazon has more than 100,000 robots working in its warehouses around the world. They are used for menial tasks, from transporting goods across short distances to stocking shelves.

Workers are now wearing new hi-tech belts to protect them from the robots which can be carrying up to 340kg on the factory floor making them a serious threat to humans if hit by them.

The belts protect workers by sending out a radio signal to robots that forces them to smartly update their travel plans and steer clear of the area.

While the racing bots are usually kept separate from human employees to avoid injuries, if one breaks down, someone has to go in and fix them.
Prior to the new belts, workers would have to update a robot “traffic planner” which told bots to stay out of a certain area while the malfunctioning thing was fixed.

Studies indicate that many robot accidents occur during non-routine operating conditions, such as programming, maintenance, testing, setup, or adjustment.

If you’re an employer about to explore the possibilities for a human-robot workforce remember that risk assessments are crucial to safe and successful implementation of robots in the workplace.

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What makes a robot “collaborative”?

A robot is considered “collaborative” when its design incorporates built-in safeguards that allow it to interact with humans. Despite these inherent protections, collaborative robots still pose significant risks. The manufacturer has control over the robot’s design but not how it’s configured, programmed or uses. The environment each robot is placed in and the specific tasks it is programmed to perform present further risks. One potential risk is its interaction with other equipment. Because every collaborative robot system is unique, it’s advisable to conduct risk assessments before, during and after installation. Businesses need to bear in mind that if they modify a robot system after it is in place, it is their responsibility to conduct new risk assessments. 

Health and safety compliance is not an option, it’s compulsory. Breaches can result in prosecutions leading to fines, custodial sentences, and damaged business reputation. Online health and safety training is an excellent option to keep employees safe and well. ETD Training are based in Clun, Shropshire, and are specialists in online health and safety training provision to all organisations, large or small, nationwide.