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Do you share your workspace with industrial robotics?

Workers in auto manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities in Santa Clara County are entitled to work in environments that are free of known safety hazards. Employers are also obliged to inform employees of the safety hazards their jobs pose and provide safety training on prevention of occupational injuries. Facilities in which humans share their workspaces with industrial robotics, unique risks exist, and specific safety standards to deal with robotics are still evolving.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health requires all employers to maintain general safety standards until more specific measures become effective. If you become familiar with general safety standards, you can insist on adequate protection through the regulation of equipment and user safety when it comes to robotics.

What are the risks?

Robotics can be the traditional industrial type that occupies enclosed spaces or the collaborative model that interacts with human workers. The following are typical robot-related accidents that could harm you:

  • Mechanical failures: Any breakdown of mechanical parts such as the drive components, powers source and peripheral equipment can cause hazardous malfunctions.
  • Trapping or crushing incidents: During malfunctions, the peripheral equipment of a robot could entrap you or drive you up against other material and cause crushing injuries.
  • Collision or impact accidents: When components or programs malfunction, unanticipated contact with the peripheral equipment like the robot's arm can lead to injuries through contact.
  • Other potential accidents: Power sources like electricity and pressurized fluids pose additional hazards when you work with robots.

Essential safety protocols for enclosed traditional robots

The following barriers or safeguards must be present to protect you:

  • Fixed barrier: This barrier prevents under, over, around or through access to industrial robots, and removal requires the use of tools.
  • Interlocked barrier: Opening these interlocked gates will stop robotic operations, only to continue after push-button activation outside the guarded perimeter with the gates closed.
  • Presence-sensing barriers: These devices use light curtains or pressure mats to deactivate the robot upon sensing the presence of a worker within the danger area.
  • Awareness barrier: This does not prevent access, but serves purely as a warning of potential risks in the form of suspended chains or low railings.

With adequate safety barriers and guarding in place, there will be limited risks to your safety.

Collaborative robotics safety devices

If your job involves interaction with a collaborative robot, the following integral safety measures should be in place:

  • Separation and speed monitors: Scanners monitor workers approaching the collaborative area and lower the robot's speed.
  • Hand guiding: If you guide the operations of the robotic system, you will be in control and can prevent accidents.
  • Limited force and power: If your job involves contact with a robotic device, reduced operating speed and force can avoid injuries.
  • Monitored safety stop: Non-collaborative robotics with this safety feature will stop working when you become exposed to moving parts in the collaborative work area.

These barriers can prevent you from contact with robotics, but if the job involves flying chips, sawdust or other debris, the guarding systems must also prevent those materials from traveling beyond the guarded perimeter.

Your rights

You have the right to report dangerous work environments and safety violations by your employer. However, despite having all the necessary safeguards in place, accidents can happen. If you suffer on-the-job injuries, you might be eligible for financial relief through the California workers' compensation insurance system, and an experienced attorney can assist you throughout the legal and administrative proceedings to obtain the applicable benefits.

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