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Worker safety guidelines for robotic workstations

Many manufacturers and warehouses in Louisiana and across the United States are increasing their reliance on robotic workstations. These robots require specific approaches for worker safety because their automatic and sometimes fast movements create risks for serious injury and even death.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the majority of worker accidents around robots happen when people are performing maintenance, programming or other adjustments. To reduce risks, employers should design workstations that protect control buttons from accidental operation. Furthermore, controls should not be located within the range of the robot's operation. Remote controls also promote safety because an operator can test and diagnose the machine from outside its radius of moving parts.

Unauthorized or accidental access to a robotic workstation can be limited with barriers. Ideally, a fence that is at least 6 feet high should enclose a robot. Safety experts consider guardrails, chains and floor markings inadequate for protection. Sensing mechanisms like pressure floor mats, light curtains and ultrasonic sensors that curtail or discontinue robot operation do represent excellent safeguards.

Employers should avoid hazards such as steel posts or pillars near a robotic workstation. A worker could become trapped against such objects and pinched or crushed by moving robotic machinery.

A worker injured by a robot could trigger an OSHA investigation that would include an assessment of workstation design. If a workplace injury does occur, the employee has a right to apply for medical benefits through workers' compensation insurance. The types and amounts of benefits available, however, may not always be clear. An attorney may be able to help an injured worker understand the options that are available.

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