Proactive Approach Can Protect Workers with Robotic Coworkers

Early in the science fiction thriller Ex Machina, Nathan Bateman, the brilliant
and unnerving CEO of a successful software company, says to his star
programmer, "Over the next few days, you're going to be the human component in
a Turing test.” Despite the ominous sound of Bateman's statement, intensified
by his underground laboratory's location on a remote mountain, the Turing test
is relatively simple. Developed in 1950 by artificial-intelligence pioneer Alan
Turing, the test measures a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior
similar to that of humans. It involves two people and one machine, with one
person observing and evaluating the machine's interactions with the other

a humanoid robot, wearing a hard hat and holding construction plans. Of course,
the movie is pure fantasy, but the entry of robots into the modern workplace is
real. At the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),
where protecting workers from workplace hazards is paramount, researchers are
taking a proactive approach to prevent injuries among workers who share the
workplace with robots. In a recent paper published in the peer reviewed Journal
of Occupational and Environmental HygieneExternal Web Site Icon, researchers
identified three categories of robots in the workplace - industrial;
professional and personal service; and collaborative - and made four
recommendations that occupational safety and health professionals can take to
protect workers:

They should be directly involved in developing international standards aimed at
ensuring safety of workplaces with human and robot workers.
They should develop workplace safety standards for maintenance, operation, and
interaction with human workers, of professional, personal service, and
collaborative (including managerial) robots.
They should develop proactive approaches for establishing risk profiles of
robotic workplaces.
They should develop and operationalize redundant safety measures to protect
human workers who perform maintenance tasks on robot workers.

As with any new technology, protective measures like these are critical to
prevent workplace injuries. Although reports of work-related injuries from
robots are few, they can happen. Most recently, in June 2015, a third-party
contracting employee installing an industrial robot at a Volkswagen assembly
line in Baunatal, Germany, died when the robot gripped and pressed him against
a metal plate, crushing his chest. What caused the malfunction remains unclear.
Earlier, a widely cited 1987 paper reported less serious, but nonetheless
worrisome, injuries like pinches and impacts, with 23 among line workers, 6
among maintenance workers, and 3 among computer programmers. Most of these
injuries stemmed from preventable human causes like poor workplace design and

More information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Centre for Occupational Health and Safety