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Study of robot-related worker deaths highlights safety challenges


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Washington — The majority of robot-related worker fatalities involve self-powered robots undergoing maintenance, results of a recent study show.

NIOSH researcher Larry Layne examined 1992-2017 data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, identifying 41 robot-related deaths. In all, 78% of the cases involved a robot striking a worker, often while it was undergoing maintenance. Stationary robots accounted for 83% of the incidents.

Other findings:

  • 46% of the robot-related worker fatalities occurred in the Midwest, which NIOSH attributes to “the use of robots in motor vehicle manufacturing in Michigan and Ohio.”
  • Men accounted for 85% of the fatalities.
  • 29% of the victims were between 35 and 44 years old.

Further integration of robotic technologies in the workplace may introduce new hazards that challenge public health professionals “to keep pace with developments in robotics to ensure the safety and health of workers across the country,” the study states.

“This study highlights the growing challenges of protecting workers who perform tasks with the aid of robots,” NIOSH says. “As robotic technology develops, identifying patterns of death, such as those found in this study, will be a critical part of developing safeguards, including safety standards, to protect workers.”

The study was published online in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

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