Preventing robot system injuries: 6 pointers from a WSPS expert

Aug 06, 2015

robot safetyIn July 1984, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an article, likely the first of its kind, entitled "Preventing the Injury of Workers by Robots." In September 2014, the Boston Consulting Group projected the rise of robot systems to be a US$67 billion market by 2025. The rate of adoption is faster than anticipated. Workplaces, take note.

A key health and safety precaution for workplaces with or considering robot systems would be to implement CSA Z434-14-Industrial Robots and Robot Systems. The standard includes new user-friendly tools to help workplaces conduct risk assessments, build a safe robot system, and measure its functional safety. "This latest version of the standard makes risk assessment priority one," says Tom Eastwood, a WSPS machine safeguarding specialist who is also chair of the technical committee responsible for CSA Z434-14.

WSPS Network News asked Eastwood what he would recommend to workplaces that already have or are considering installing robots. Here's what he told us.

  1. Don't just get the standard. Know it. "CSA Z434-14 speaks to end users, not just robot manufacturers or integrators (installers)." This is invaluable in terms of understanding what end users' roles and responsibilities are, and what specific steps they can take to ensure robots operate safety and productively. Who needs to know depends on their function. Most workplaces with robot systems will have a robot specialist - a gatekeeper. But joint health and safety committee members, for example, need to know what they should be looking for when conducting inspections.
  2. Involve internal and external stakeholders from the beginning: engineering, maintenance, health and safety, quality assurance, even your contracted integrator. Each stakeholder has a unique perspective that can contribute to installing, operating and maintaining the robot system safely and efficiently.
  3. When selecting an integrator, understand exactly what you need from them. "The fewer skills you have in house, the more skills you'll want in an integrator. State in your contract that the integrator must install the robot system in accordance with CSA Z434-14."
  4. Think forward. "Buy a robot that has the functionalities that you require now and in the future. Take into account the projected growth of the business, how the product line may change, and how this robot could serve you in the future. The type of robot you choose will influence the design or selection of your protective measures."
  5. Build fault recovery into your practices and procedures, and make sure your people know how to implement them. "If a fault occurs, the recovery procedure is the information you must have to restore the robot to a safe position and simultaneously protect workers."
  6. Ensure compliance at every step. "Measure existing policies and procedures against requirements outlined in CSA Z434-14. Conduct thorough hazard assessments and review them periodically, and ensure your people have the training they need."

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