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Working safely with robots

A rapidly expanding section of the New York workforce labors in conjunction with robots and robotics in the course of their daily employment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been monitoring the progress of this technology and has issued several rulings on the subject over the years.

Authorities on the subject have observed that the majority of injuries involving robots come while the worker is repairing, maintaining or adjusting the device. Robot related fatalities have occurred, but they have been rare.

OSHA as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have published guidelines that suggest generous clearance distances between the robot and any workers, and there should also be a safety fence around any robotic workstation. The fence should be 6 feet high or higher, and an electrical interlock on the gate is recommended. The gate should be designed so that opening it causes the robot to cease operation immediately. A wide variety of other safety devices are also advocated.

The employer is responsible for maintaining a safe workplace and working with due diligence to prevent any workplace injury. If the employer has been negligent in its duty, or if it has acted with callous disregard for the law and safety regulations, then an injured worker may be able to obtain fair compensation by filing a civil suit for damages. However, in order to file such a suit, the injured employee would in most cases have to refuse the workers' compensation benefits that were already offered. It can be difficult to know which course would be the most advantageous, and the advice of an attorney may be beneficial to those who wish to decide between the two.

Source: National Law Review, "Robotics in the Workplace: How to Keep Employees Safe and Limit Exposure to OSHA Citations", Valerie Butera, July 16, 2015

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