Organization to study safety, health implications of occupational robots

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched the Center for Occupational Robotics Research, which will assess potential benefits and risks of robot workers and develop guidance for safe interactions between human and robot.
By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) October 17, 2017

Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE MediaIncreasing numbers of robots are entering the 21st century workplace, yet the benefits and potential risks of robots in the workplace aren’t fully known. To address the knowledge gap related to robotics and worker safety and health, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced the launch of the Center for Occupational Robotics Research. The new Center will assess potential benefits and risks of robot workers and develop guidance for safe interactions between human and robot.

"Robots working collaboratively with humans present a new workplace risk profile that is not yet well understood," said NIOSH director John Howard, M.D. "Not only is this a new field for safety and health professionals, little government guidance or policy exists regarding the safe integration of robots into the workplace. NIOSH’s Center for Occupational Robotics Research will provide the scientific leadership needed to ensure human workers are protected."

Robots are not new to the workplace. Advancements in sensing technology, however, have led to the evolution of the conventional industrial robot working in isolation to smarter, collaborative robots that work alongside, move amongst, or are worn by human workers. NIOSH researchers have identified 61 robot-related workplace deaths between 1992 and 2015. The center will continue to monitor trends in injuries associated with both traditional and emerging robotics technologies.

"We suspect fatalities will increase over time because of the growing number of industrial robots being used by companies in the U.S., and from the introduction of collaborative and co-existing robots, powered exoskeletons, and autonomous vehicles into the work environment," said Dawn Castillo, M.P.H., director of NIOSH’s division of safety research and the center’s program manager.

NIOSH will work with partners in academia, industry, and government to establish risk profiles of robotic workplaces, identify research needs and conduct research to improve the safety, health, and wellbeing of humans working with robots and robotic technologies and support the development and adoption of consensus safety standards. The center’s first formal partnership was established with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Robotics Industry Association (RIA).

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

www.cdc.gov/niosh/ 

– Edited from a NIOSH press release by CFE Media. See more Control Engineering robotics stories.