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Using ergonomics to power up machine and robotics safety

Jan 19, 2021

Using ergonomics to power up machine and robotics safety"Workplaces need to rethink the role of ergonomics in machine/robotics safety programs because they may be missing out on significant benefits," says Don Patten, WSPS' Specialized Services Lead (Ergonomics). The two are not in competition, as some workplaces may believe, but work in tandem to make workplaces safer and more productive.

"When you design machines and robotic systems to meet the strengths of the people who operate them, which is what ergonomics is all about, you can eliminate errors that may lead to machine related injuries and downtime."

How can you put ergonomics to work for your machine/robotics safety program? Don and two other WSPS safety experts will be offering insights and suggestions in a February 22 webinar, Using Ergonomics to Improve Machine Safety/Robotics Outcomes. The webinar is one of five taking place February 22-26. Aimed at health and safety professionals, engineers, and joint health and safety committee members, the webinar series could change the way you think about ergonomics and machine safety.

WSPS eNews asked Don to share his perspective on ergonomics and machine safety based on his years of experience working with WSPS customers.

Identify both types of hazards

"Even though human factors are essential to the success of health and safety systems, workplaces don't always make them a focal point," says Don. "That's a missed opportunity for improvement."

He explains that some employers keen to comply with machine/robot safety laws and standards may put ergonomic considerations on the back burner due to perceived complexities, or concerns about cost. However, conducting a risk assessment early in the design phase of a new machine or process, or before modifying an existing system, helps identify and control ergonomic and machine hazards. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can be costly to manage, and treatment may result in lost time and productivity.

"The importance of carrying out a risk assessment early in the design phase of a new machine or before a modification to an existing system cannot be overemphasized," says Don.

MSDs aren't the only concern when ergonomic principles are not considered as part of your machine/robotics safety program. There's also greater potential for acute injuries. "By ignoring ergonomics, workplaces may be reducing risk in one area but increasing it in another." He offers two examples

  • a worker removes a cumbersome machine guard because it gets in the way of completing an integral task and does not replace it, increasing the risk of serious injury. "When minor tasks (i.e. non-maintenance tasks) are part of a machine's intended operation, they must be considered during the risk assessment. This ensures that safeguarding solutions protect workers from machine hazards while allowing access to necessary areas and enable tasks to be carried out in an ergonomically sound manner."
  • a machine operator in distress tries to stop the machine but can't reach the emergency stop button. The operator's reaching distance and arm length had not been considered before the button was installed.

Webinar series provides more insights

Don and his colleagues Robert Vomiero and Michael Wilson, WSPS Specialized Services Leads (Machine & Robotics Safety), will take a closer look at how and why applying ergonomic considerations can improve your machine and robotic safety program, with specific examples in each area. They'll also link you to helpful resources, including CSA Standard CSA Z432, Safeguarding of Machinery.

How WSPS can help

Register now for this and other sessions in the Reimagining Safety @ Work: Working Smarter, Not Harder Ergonomic Webinar Series.

Learn how WSPS consultants can help you apply ergonomics principles to your machine and robotics safety program to prevent MSDs and other types of injuries. Contact our duty consultants at dutyconsultant@wsps.ca or 1-877-494-9777.

Use this MSD Hazards Checklist to identify tasks that may require a risk assessment.

Watch this pre-recorded webinar on CSA-Z434-14, industrial robots and robot systems.