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Robotic workers pose threats of causing permanent disability

The numbers of workplace accidents involving robots seem insignificant at present. However, with more and more of them entering the manufacturing industry nationwide, including in Ohio, mechanical workers may cause increased numbers of on-the-job injuries in the future. Any human worker who shares his or her workplace with a robotic colleague may be vulnerable to suffer injuries that might cause permanent disability or worse.

Records of accidents involving robots indicate that most incidents happened during procedures such as maintenance, programming, setups or testing, rather than during manufacturing operations. However, in 1979 the swing of a robotic arm caused the first death when it struck a factory worker who was gathering spares from storage. Then, in 2015, a mechanical worker crushed an employee to death in a factory from where the Volkswagen originates, and another death occurred within a month when a fatality occurred in another country under similar circumstances. Records indicate that 27 U.S. workers have died at the hands of robotic workers between 1984 and 2013.

Because manufacturers of robotic workers are not subject to safety regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it is up to employers to protect human employees against them. Arc welding is reportedly the task most frequently done by robots, and providing safeguarding to establish measures to protect workers is essential. Detection devices must be in place to prevent intentional or accidental access to safe areas around these workstations.

Any Ohio employee who suffered permanent disability in a workplace accident -- regardless of the involvement of a robot -- can pursue financial assistance through the workers' compensation insurance system. Because such an injury will have an impact on the victim's earning capacity for life, maximum benefits must be sought. An experienced workers' compensation attorney might be the best person to navigate the claims process and work to ensure the victim receives all the benefits to which he or she is entitled.

Source: plantservices.com, "Prevent robotic welding accidents", Carrie Halle, April 17, 2017

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