RIA partners with OSHA to improve robot safety in the workplace

The OSHA/NIOSH/RIA Alliance is a newly-formed group that seeks to improve communication around the use of robots and determine best practices.

What does the future hold for human/robot cooperation?

The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is partnering with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to drive safety standards around the use of robots in the workplace. Announced in a recent press release, the OSHA/NIOSH/RIA Alliance will work to educate business leaders on best practices in robot safety.

The RIA developed the first robot safety standard in 1986, RIA president Jeff Burnstein noted in the release. By partnering with OSHA and NIOSH, the firm hopes to be able to adequately address new safety concerns brought about by the next generation of robotics.

"The goals of the OSHA/NIOSH/RIA Alliance are enhancing technical expertise about robotics within OSHA and NIOSH; improving awareness of workplace hazards associated with traditional industrial robots and the emerging technology of human robot collaboration (HRC) installations and systems; and identifying research that may be needed to help reduce workplace hazards," the release said.

SEE: Hiring kit: Robotics engineer (Tech Pro Research)

The first industrial robot was installed back in 1961, RIA's director of standards development Carole Franklin said in the release. As such, the RIA has been working to make the standards around robot deployment more well known, and it believes that OSHA and NIOSH can help achieve that goal.

A big part of improving the understanding of robotics and their potential safety hazards will come from cross-communication between members of the three groups in the alliance. The alliance will use this information to create training resources and new tools for the researchers and employees of alliance organizations, the release said.

While robots have been in use in industries such as manufacturing for decades, the emergence of robots in other markets has ignited the conversation about what the future of work will look like as employees work alongside robots, or are replaced by them.

The biggest concern on most people's minds is whether or not their job will be replaced by some form of AI or robotics. Some data suggests that robots will steal million of jobs, while other information seems to point to robots merely improving human efficiency.

Still, the concern for physical safety is also a major talking point, especially given the fact that robots have recently been involved in employee deaths. A woman who worked in maintenance for a stamping and molding company was killed by a robot after it entered an unauthorized section and crushed her head. There have also been robot-related deaths in India and Germany recently as well.

The question of robots taking jobs is still at the forefront of many discussions about the technology, but ensuring safety in operation should be a paramount concern as well.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. OSHA, NIOSH, and the RIA have formed an alliance to address best practices for robot safety in the workplace.
  2. The organizations will rely on cross-communication to identify potential hazards, and will work to improve education about robotics, while providing training and resources as well.
  3. Recently, robots have been involved in the death of a few workers worldwide, raising the stakes for developing standards around their use in the workplace.

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