Risk assessment of industrial robots and safety regulations

The correct risk assessment of industrial robots is essential to create a safe and effective working environment.

 

Industrial robots: Risk assessment is a topic that all manufacturers integrating industrial robotics into their facilities should be familiar with as they are crucial to creating a safe and effective work environment. Risk assessment is a standardized method for identifying and weighing workplace hazards and determining appropriate risk mitigation measures.

Below, we will explain why industrial robot risk assessments are important, how to conduct them, and what to do with the results.

Who and why should carry out a risk assessment of industrial robots?

It is a common misconception that the OEM is responsible for all aspects of machine safety, including risk assessment. In almost all cases, the manufacturer is responsible for performing industrial robot risk assessment and mitigation. This makes sense, as the manufacturer decides when, where, and how to deploy and operate their equipment. For example, if a manufacturer purchases a new robotic palletizer for its food and beverage operations, it is the manufacturer that must do the evaluation. In addition, the manufacturer has the responsibility to mitigate the identified risks.

Most countries have regulations requiring some type of risk assessment and mediation for manufacturers. OSHA (USA), CSA (Canada), and HSE (UK) are safety regulators with laws on risk assessments. It is essential to know the safety codes of each country or region and how they apply to industrial robotics.

Risk assessment of industrial robots is essential because it helps identify hazards that can seriously injure machine operators and other employees. Robots can sometimes be dangerous to human operators. Mitigation assists manufacturers in reducing the extent and frequency of machine-related accidents. Failure to conduct a risk assessment can also lead to severe penalties in many countries.

Risk evaluations should be undertaken in a few basic circumstances:

  • When a robot or other industrial machine is introduced into the process
  • When processes are modified or the use of the machine changes
  • When new hazards are identified

In cases like these, a risk assessment should be performed to determine the risk and appropriate mitigation.

How to carry out the risk assessment of industrial robots?

It is clear that the  risk assessment of industrial robots  is a fundamental component to carry out a safe operation and follows the following steps:

  • Identify the hazards
  • Prioritize risk
  • Mitigation: Comprehensive documentation will provide benefits throughout this process. It is advisable to take many photos of the robotic work cell and the surrounding area as well as interview the staff. Knowledge of local regulations will help understand what actions need to be taken for mitigation.

 

  • Determine goals: Before beginning the risk assessment of industrial robots, it is useful to define some objectives that will help maintain focus and direction during the process. Objectives should include attempting to answer the following questions about the safety of your machine operations:
    • What could happen and under what circumstances?
    • How often might this result occur?
    • What are the consequences of the possible outcomes?
    • How likely are the results to occur?
    • Are there any additional mitigation measures that can be carried out?

These questions can help complete a proper risk assessment because by doing so, you can identify what poses the most significant risks to employees and reduce these hazards.

  • Identify the hazards: The main objective is to identify any mechanism, situation, or process in which an employee could be injured. During this process, talk to as many people involved in the process as possible. For documentation, many photos of the robot in operation and outside of it have to be taken. Also, it is helpful to have people experienced and new to the machine and process to review potential hazards. This helps to get a complete picture of potential risks through both experienced and new perspectives.

 

How to identify hazards:

When you are in the process of identifying hazards, it is useful to make a few considerations:

    • What components pose apparent risks? (robot arm, flying shear, pinch points, etc.)
    • Consider the complete procedure from beginning to end.
    • Review the different ways operators interact with the robot/machine
    • Consider ways in which operators could inappropriately interact with the robot/machine
    • Examine how employees not directly involved in robot operation might come into contact with hazards (logistics operators, cleaning staff, etc.)
    • Review past incident reports
    • Examine maintenance procedures for possible risks
    • Review access to the work cell for employees who are not regular operators (administrative staff, visitors, etc.)

 

How to determine the risk:

Determining the risk can sometimes be a complicated process since it is often not easy to know if a process or mechanism poses a risk. Some aspects that must be taken into account to assess the risk are:

    • Consult a certified security representative
    • Opinions from experienced traders
    • Safety data sheets and machine manuals
    • Local regulations and best practices
    • Exposure duration and intensity
    • Incidents involving comparable machines
    • Test scores

 

  • Prioritize risk: Risk prioritization is another critical component of the industrial robot risk assessment process. Priority can be assessed by looking at the severity of the risk and the probability of the incident occurring. Risk ranking allows you to determine which hazards need to be addressed first.

The final order often comes down to judgments made by a team of people with individual perspectives, biases, interpretations, and knowledge of workplace procedures. However, as long as everyone maintains the same goals, a reasonable conclusion about the risk should be reached.

The ultimate goal of risk assessment

Once you have identified and classified the risks to your facility, you can move forward with mitigation measures. This is the process of reducing the risks posed by previously identified hazards. To determine mitigation measures, you should refer to existing rules and regulations. There are several common mitigation methods:

  • Total removal: Completely remove the hazard, block access to the hazard, kill the process, etc.
  • Electrical or automated controls: Install light curtains, emergency stops, security scanners, safer programming practices, etc.
  • Improvement of workflows: Introducing safer work procedures, standards, PPE, etc.

Regardless of what you decide to do to reduce risk, the goal should always be to reduce the severity and likelihood of an incident occurring. This will maximize the benefits of robot investments by improving facility safety. This increased safety in the workplace will create a happier, safer, and more efficient work environment.

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