While accidents involving robots are rare, there is always need to be aware of the potential hazards that come with working with them. This is especially true today, as human-robot collaboration gets into the mainstream. The introduction of personal service robots and cobots robots presents new challenges to safety that are gladly being addressed as we move along.

Are Collaborative and Service Robots More Dangerous?

Recently, there have been confirmed and confirmed reports of increased injuries in Amazon fulfilment warehouses caused by extensive automation.  For instance, a recent report alleges that over 292 employees at a Kent Amazon fulfilment warehouse got severe injuries. This is an alarming figure given the low rate of injuries witnessed in past decades,where traditional industrial robots are in use. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration only reported a total of 20 robot-related injuries in the period between 2000, and 2019.

Luckily, the named organizations have come out to address the allegations and where possible outline the measures they are taking to address these new hazards. To answer the above question,one need not look further than the philosophy behind collaborative and service robots. Cobots, and by extension, service robots are generally made to be safer than traditional industrial robots in their design and mode of operation.

3 Robot Safety Best Practices with Examples

1.    Following Supplier Installation Guidelines

Conventional industrial robots often require the supplier’s direct input as far as installation and maintenance is concerned. The installation and maintenance may be done by a representative from the supplier or highly qualified internal personnel. However, this is not often the case for most service robots, especially personal service robots. Newer industrial robots made for smaller business may also fall into this category.

Be that as it may, every supplier will, by law, provide detailed installation instructions that must be followed to the latter. A good number of accidents involving personal service robots and small industrial robots are as a result of faulty installations. Perhaps, the workspace wasn’t set up correctly,or limiting devices weren’t installed, faulty or inadequate power electrical connections etc.

2.    Determine Recommended Safe Operating Distances

Even collaborative and personal robots have specific spatial requirements for safety purposes. This is normally determined by many factors such as acceleration, axis, payloads, robot size, end effectors, mode of operation, among others. For instance, collaborative robots used in robot machine tending have significantly stricter spatial requirements as compared to those used for labelling or sorting in warehouses.

Adhering to safe operating distances is critical when it comes to traditional industrial robots. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a majority of robot accidents occur when there is a breach of safe operating distances during maintenance, testing, programming, adjustments and corrective maintenance. For instance, one of the reported cases mentioned earlier involved a robotic arm functioning erratically and striking the operator during setup.

This is why it’s important to have qualified personnel and adequate safeguards whenever a person is required to breach the safety fence or safe operating distance.  Most industrial robot injury cases can be avoided if every precaution is taken under normal operating conditions and during maintenance.

3.    Correct Configuration- Robot Programming

Understanding howa robot functions and using that information during programming is the first step towards eliminating future robot hazards. Robots use a predefined or intelligently calculated pathto perform tasks in a workspace. Even domestic robots such as those used in cleaning and mobilityfollow a path when in operation.

When configuring robots, ensure that the path is well defined according to the available working space in your setup. Robots can use a continuous path, controlled path or point-to-point path. Each of these paths ismeant to ensure safe and predictable robot movements.

Additionally, remote configuration systems should be used where possible to minimize the need to breach the robot’s safe operating distance.

Final Remarks

Robots are generally safe to work with if all the safety precautions are adhered to at all times. This is especially important for industrial settings as accidents can be severe or fatal when they do occur. Personal robots may carry less risk but still need to handled correctly to avoid injuries.