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OSHA may need revised standards for robot safety

Robots are used in industries across North Carolina to take on hazardous and repetitious tasks, but without the proper guarding or adequate safety training for employees, these machines can cause injuries. Robot safety has long been a concern for OSHA, which first issued its Guidelines for Robotics Safety back in 1987. At that time, robots posed a danger not just when in operation but during programming, testing and inspection periods.

Thanks to advanced computer intelligence, robots are now safer, and they can be found playing a role in the manufacturing, warehousing and retail industries. However, some experts are saying that OSHA has failed to keep up with these advances and therefore requires updated regulations.

OSHA currently has no regulations that directly address robot safety, but its lockout-tagout and other regulations do take machine safety into account. OSHA has established rules on programmable logic controllers, which are the primary means to prevent unexpected movements in robots. A technical manual from OSHA lists the following four robot-related dangers: impacts or collisions, unexpected movements, unexpected program changes and component malfunctions.

In October 2017, OSHA signed an agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Robotic Industries Association to ensure that both OSHA and NIOSH improve safety standards. The first step is to identify areas where research should be conducted and to raise awareness of robot-related hazards.

In the meantime, employers will want to study their job sites and mitigate any risks posed by robotics equipment. In the event that an employee is injured, he or she could seek workers' compensation benefits. Workers' comp can cover medical expenses as well as a percentage of lost wages. However, a worker may want to retain a lawyer for the filing process. If the claim is denied, the lawyer could assist with the appeal.

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