7 Industrial Robotics Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Written By: Steven Hogg

BMH Industrial Robots - Robotic ArmAs industrial robots become more popular, many customers wonder whether robots are safe to implement in their facility.  Although an industrial robot will improve the ergonomic conditions in a production area, there is a perception that the robot will create an unsafe work environment.

This perception is fueled by the robots open programmability in terms of speed and direction, which appears impossible to control.  In order to ease concerns, a risk assessment should be performed during the development of the robotic work cell.

At each stage of the assessment, individual safety requirements will be identified and the appropriate guarding and safety devices are determined in order to reduce the potential hazards.  These requirements should be based off of OSHA and ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999 (R2009) safety standards in order to provide the safest work cell possible.

OSHA identifies 7 potential hazards within robotic work cells:

  1. Human Errors

    Human error occurs in day-to-day activity and this is no different with regard to a robotic work cell.  Whether it is programming, preventative maintenance, or teach pendant control, operators have the potential to place themselves in hazardous positions due to over familiarity or lack of knowledge of the robot’s motion path.

  2. Control Errors

    Errors in the controls software and hardware can lead to hazards within a robotic work cell.  If the controls system faults, the system response may lead to a dangerous working environment if it is closely coupled with human interaction.

  3. Unauthorized Access

    Access by an unauthorized operator into a safeguarded robotic work cell.  If an operator is unfamiliar with the safety hardware associated with the robotic work cell, they can find themselves in a dangerous and potentially fatal area.

  4. Mechanical Failures

    During the design and programming stages, mechanical part failure is not always taken into account.  When an unexpected failure occurs, this can lead to a potentially hazardous situation for the operator. Industrial Robots from Bastian Robotics

  5. Environmental Sources

    Outside factors and communication interference can create an undesirable effect on a robotic work cell.  Unsuppressed power surges or power loss can lead to injury if they are not planned for during the initial stages of the project.

  6. Power Systems

    Power sources that have communication to the robotic cell can be disrupted and lead to undesired actions.  This can produce a release of energy, creating a hazardous environment for an operator.

  7. Improper Installation

    Any time an industrial robot is installed it is vital to the success of the project and safety of the operators that the system is installed correctly before it is fully operational.  If the robotic work cell is incorrectly setup, future hazards may occur due to variance from the original design.

Although each of these potential hazards can be dangerous, they are each preventable as long as workers are well educated on the robotic system and the robotic integrator has fulfilled all job requirements, including proper installation, programming, and risk assessment.  Any dangers should also be taken into account during the initial design phase and shared as a living document throughout the project life cycle.

As long as these seven potential hazards are addressed early, industrial robots are extremely safe and can help your bottom line.  Before our clients purchase an industrial robotics system, we always encourage them to become familiar with these safety standards and practices, but no matter what robotic integrator you use, ensure they fully understand and are held accountable to these standards.

For more information on industrial robotics systems, please contact us or visit: http://www.bastiansolutions.com/robotics/

About The Author

Steven Hogg wrote 6 articles on this blog.

Steven is a Robotics Application Engineer at Bastian's robotics division in St. Louis, MO.

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18 Responses to “7 Industrial Robotics Hazards and How to Avoid Them”

  1. Mike Yeh says:

    If you could adopted more modulars end of arm tooling components, that will be more perfect. Please try to adopt acy corporation EOAT parts.

  2. Steven Hogg says:

    Mike – Bastian Robotics is always interested in evaluating new technologies in order to improve the components used in our EoATs. Please email me your companies catalog for further evaluation.

  3. Rita Watts says:

    Interesting. Highest percentage of robotics hazards are still from human error?

  4. Rachel Ratcliff says:

    How do you recommend limiting access to unauthorized operators into a robotic work cell?

  5. Donald Giovanoni says:

    Releated to comments number 1 and 2, inadequete testing can be a contributing factor.

  6. Steven Hogg says:

    Rita – People place themselves in hazardous positions due to their error in judgment. Typically there are two classes of operators: 1.) they are unfamiliar with the cell and unknowingly place themselves in a hazardous position; 2.) they become too confident with overexposure to the cell and take unnecessary risks since they think they know what the robot will do next. In order to avoid potentially hazardous situations all operators should be properly trained and following the standard operating procedures.

  7. Steven Hogg says:

    Rachel – When protecting a work cell there are number of individual safety requirements that must be identified. All of the requirements should be based off of OSHA and ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999 (R2009) safety standards. Once you have developed the appropriate requirements, you must then select guarding and safety devices to prevent operator access to a hazardous work area. A typical Bastian Robotics palletizing cell will have safety fencing around the perimeter, light curtains to protect the infeed/outfeed of materials , and safety interlocks on the doors to prevent operator access. Depending on the category of safety rating required at your facility, additional hardware may be required.

  8. Steven Hogg says:

    Donald – Inadequate testing is definitely a contributing factor to creating a hazardous work environment. In order to protect your operators from potential risks, I would suggest that all safety hardware be tested during a FAT at your integrator’s facility before signoff. No robotic system should be shipped to a customer’s facility before completely testing the work cell’s safety system.

  9. Ben Pomerenke says:

    How long after installation must a company using such technology re-evaluate safety concerns due to mechanical failures, environmental changes, or power systems? monthly? quarterly? yearly? etc.

  10. Gregory Peebles says:

    It seems like the failures fall into two general buckets, human error and equipment error.

    Human Errors can only be prevented by dilgently and judiciously performing the task, following Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to ensure the operator and other workers are safe during operation. Maintianing line of sight and direct communication with all workers in the area is crucial to preventing injuries.

    For failures such as Control Error, Mechanical Failure, Environmental Sources, and Power Systems additional safeguards or redundant logics can be programmed in to detect these types of failures and automatically place the robot into a fail-safe mode, effectively overriding the manual control to return the robot to a home, or safe, position. This position would most likely be unique to each industrial robot and would require testing and specific training to the Operators.

  11. Matt Flynn says:

    OHSA list 7 common hazards associated with industrial robotics, what have you found to be the most common of these hazards? Great Blog!

  12. Randy Watts says:

    It seems that a strict “task list” or work rules for operating the equipment would help cut doen on human accidents. I know these steps or task lists are followed very strictly in the Chemical industry.

    Good article.

  13. Judy Giovanoni says:

    Can you limit access to the robotics through badge security, or codes; or is that up to the individual installation’s requirements?

  14. Steven Hogg says:

    Ben – A company should be continuously evaluating and monitoring the safety within their facility. Safety standards continue to evolve and safety protocol within your facility should do the same. In the system manual, your integrator should highlight the daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly preventative maintenance required in order to maintain a properly running work cell. Spare parts should also be kept on hand in order to maintain system uptime and avoid running equipment to failure before replacement.

  15. Steven Hogg says:

    Matt – The most common issue I’ve seen of course is human error but also systems that are not adequately guarded play a huge part in safe guarding an operator. If someone is negligent and do not follow proper procedures, it is very difficult to protect against. The goal is to complete the risk assessment and provide adequate safe guards for areas where risks have been identified.

  16. Steven Hogg says:

    Judy – Badges and security codes can be integrated into work cells to add an additional layer of protection. For our installations, we provide 3 levels of operator access on the robot teach pendant. Level 1: Base Operator; Level 2: Supervisor; Level 3: Programmer. Level 1 is allowed to start/stop the system and clear faults. Level 2 is allowed to manipulate values within the program, touch up point, etc. Level 3 is very restricted to highly trained personnel who have taken programming classes and Bastian Robotics personnel.

  17. Boy Scout says:

    Um… Where does it say how they are prevented??????????

  18. Troop 319 says:

    Where does it say how this stuff can be prevented????????????

    PLEASE ANSWER

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