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Are Robotics the Answer to Workplace Safety?

Canvas dry wall machine on display

According to a May 25 report from the National Safety Council, robotics in the workplace, especially autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), have the potential to reduce injuries and enhance safety across various industries. Despite efforts to minimize safety hazards, workplace fatality rates in the United States have not declined over the past three decades- emerging technologies offer promise in addressing this issue.

“Robotics have long been deployed by organizations to improve operational efficiencies, but as companies increasingly look towards a more automated future, the many benefits this technology brings to workplace safety programs cannot be overlooked,” Katherine Mendoza, senior director of workplace programs with the National Safety Council, said in a statement. “Recent advancements in data science and artificial intelligence mean that robotic vehicles and arms aren’t just capable of augmenting complex, precise tasks alongside human workers, but in many instances, can eliminate employees’ exposure to dangerous machinery and workplace hazards altogether.”

The report draws on information from academic journals, vendor interviews, and company case studies to provide insights into various types of robots, their advantages and disadvantages, and implementation procedures. Manufacturing uses and repetitive, high-volume production are identified as the areas where this technology may be most effective. Additionally, the report points up several other settings where robotics can be beneficial, including the inspection of confined spaces and industrial facilities, transportation of parts and materials, use of robotic arms for precision tasks and handling hazardous materials, as well as manual machine handling tasks.

The report also addresses concerns about workers losing jobs due to automation. The report suggests that robotics focused on safety can actually create new employment opportunities, particularly in engineering, maintenance, and programming. Taking a proactive approach to automation can help mitigate its consequences, including the development of programs that prioritize training and the acquisition of pertinent skill sets for potentially displaced workers.

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