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7 things people need to know when working with robot systems

Jun 07, 2016

Robot systemRobot systems may seem complicated and mysterious, but working safely around them doesn't have to be, says WSPS consultant Robert Vomiero. He offers seven ways for operators to protect themselves while working with a robot system. They're all based on this fundamental principle: robot systems can't work in tandem with us. We have to work in tandem with them.

"Injuries historically have happened when people try to access the robot cell while the robot system is operating, or while interacting with the robot during 'manual (teaching) operations' (i.e., while programming robots)," explains Vomiero. "These people are often acting with good intentions - to correct something that has happened inside the cell with minimal or no interruption to the production process - but the results can be catastrophic."

Vomiero's suggestions are a form of best practices that apply to any workplace operation or process. They'll help keep you safe and reinforce your workplace's health and safety culture.

On a day-to-day basis…

1. Understand what safeguarding devices are in place, how they work, and how they keep you safe.

2. Never circumvent any safeguarding device (e.g., light curtain, perimeter guarding/safety fencing, access gate and its interlock switches).

3. Don't take shortcuts, especially if they violate safe operating procedures. It's not in anyone's best interest.

On an ongoing basis…

4. Exercise your right to know about hazards you may be exposed to. This includes understanding

  • the different operational modes of robotic cells and what hazards are present during each - manual vs. non-manual operations
  • how to interact with a robot system in a safe manner (i.e., ensuring you understand and follow safe work practices, and have received appropriate training for the different operation modes of robotic equipment)
  • what safeguarding devices are present
  • how they work
  • how they keep you safe

This information is essential for operators as well as anyone else working near a robot system.

5. Ask questions. For example, a robot stops mid cycle and you don't know why. It's human nature to want to fix things, but involving others is safer and can ultimately be more productive. Your questions may help identify a training gap or a refresher training and coaching opportunity that could help keep other workers safe.

6. Get involved in the risk assessment process. It's a good way for you to recognize and understand the hazards, and ensures that hazards others may have missed are recognized.

7. Help keep your robot equipment's risk assessment up to date. It's a continuous process that must follow the entire life cycle of the equipment. For example, system changes may introduce new hazards not identified by previous assessments.

How WSPS can help

  1. Sign up for Robot Safety: Decoding and Applying CSA Z434, a 1-day training course delivered in a public classroom and/or on-site.
  2. Watch New Robot Safety Standard, a pre-recorded webinar about CSA Standard Z434-Industrial Robots and Robot Systems - General Safety Requirements.
  3. Check the fall schedule of WSPS' Partners in Prevention regional conferences and trade shows for related sessions. Conference programs will be posted as information becomes available.
  4. Attend a Networking and Knowledge Exchange session on robotic safety, taking place in Alliston on September 13.