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Robotics eliminated some safety risks only to cause new hazards

| Mar 1, 2021 | Workers' Compensation |

Ohio is known as a leader in the robotics industry. Robots were initially integrated into workplaces shared with human workers in an effort to improve safety. However, while mitigating some dangers, robots and humans sharing work environments gave rise to new safety hazards.

Examples of robot-related workplace accidents

A fatal accident occurred in 2015 when an employee of a company that bottles water removed a blockage from a robotic forklift’s teeth. The laser-guided, driverless forklift has an emergency stop, which, according to the operating manual, should be initiated before removing obstacles detected by the LGV. In that case, the worker failed to follow instructions and lost his life when the machine resumed its programmed task after removing the blockage.

Following that tragedy, two more cases of demolition robot-related injuries were recorded. The first case involved an employee who inadvertently bumped his remote-control device against the demolition robot. It caused the robot to crush the operator against a wall. In the other case, a worker attempted to increase the pressure on a robotic breaker’s tip while it was chipping concrete. When the robot moved forward, the worker’s foot was crushed by the outrigger as it came down.

Prevention

Despite improved safety protocols since those accidents, workers in Ohio and elsewhere remain at risk when sharing their workspaces with robotics. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health established a research facility, the Center for Occupational Robotic Research, to increase robot-related safety.

Employers are responsible for employee safety, including assessments and analyses of job hazards before new projects commence. Workers must receive adequate training and comply with safety instructions as per the manufacturer’s manual.

Workers’ compensation

Victims of Ohio workplace accidents that involved robots will likely be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Similarly, surviving families of workers who suffered fatal injuries might be eligible for death benefits. Medical expenses and lost wages are typically covered, and death benefits also provide compensation to cover costs related to end-of-life arrangements.