Safety and Health Implications of Occupational Robots

October 23, 2017

Increasing numbers of robots are entering the 21st century workplace, yet the benefits and potential risks of robots in the workplace aren’t fully known. To address the knowledge gap related to robotics and worker safety and health, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announces the launch of the Center for Occupational Robotics Research. The new Center will assess potential benefits and risks of robot workers and develop guidance for safe interactions between human and robot.

“Robots working collaboratively with humans present a new workplace risk profile that is not yet well understood,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “Not only is this a new field for safety and health professionals, little government guidance or policy exists regarding the safe integration of robots into the workplace. NIOSH’s Center for Occupational Robotics Research will provide the scientific leadership needed to ensure human workers are protected.”

Robots are not new to the workplace. Advancements in sensing technology, however, have led to the evolution of the conventional industrial robot working in isolation to smarter, collaborative robots that work alongside, move amongst, or are worn by human workers.

NIOSH researchers have identified 61 robot-related workplace deaths between 1992 and 2015. The Center will continue to monitor trends in injuries associated with both traditional and emerging robotics technologies.

“We suspect fatalities will increase over time because of the growing number of industrial robots being used by companies in the U.S., and from the introduction of collaborative and co-existing robots, powered exoskeletons, and autonomous vehicles into the work environment,” said Dawn Castillo, M.P.H., director of NIOSH’s Division of Safety Research and the Center’s program manager. “NIOSH has a history of robotics research and through the Center for Occupational Robotics Research, we are poised to proactively address the safety of today’s and tomorrow’s workers who use, wear, or work near robots.”

NIOSH will work in partnership with partners in academia, industry, and government to establish risk profiles of robotic workplaces, identify research needs and conduct research to improve the safety, health, and wellbeing of humans working with robots and robotic technologies and support the development and adoption of consensus safety standards. The Center’s first formal partnership was established on October 5, 2017—an Alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Robotics Industry Association.

Visit the NIOSH website for more information on robotics and the Center for Occupational Robotics Research.

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Williamsburg RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Williamsburg, VA, on November 7–9 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Orlando RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Orlando, FL, on November 14–16 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Safety Advisory for Worker Workers in Wildfire Regions

Cal/OSHA advised employers that special precautions must be taken to protect workers from hazards from wildfire smoke.

Smoke from wildfires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. The greatest hazard comes from breathing fine particles, which can reduce lung function, worsen asthma and other existing heart and lung conditions, and cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. 

Cal/OSHA has posted materials that provide guidance for employers and workers on working safely in conditions with heavy smoke caused by the wildfires. Employers with operations exposed to wildfire smoke must consider taking appropriate measures as part of their Injury and Illness Prevention Program under Title 8 Section 3203 of the California Code of Regulations and as required under Section 5141 (Control of Harmful Exposure to Employees). Those measures include:

  • Engineering controls whenever feasible (for example, using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas)
  • Administrative controls if practicable (for example, limiting the time that employees work outdoors)
  • Providing workers with respiratory protective equipment, such as disposable filtering facepieces (dust masks).
  • To filter out fine particles, respirators must be labeled N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99, or P-100, and must be labeled approved by the NIOSH.
  • Approved respiratory protective equipment is necessary for employees working in outdoor locations designated by local air quality management districts as “Very Unhealthy,” “Unhealthy” or “Hazardous.”
  • It takes more effort to breathe through a respirator, and it can increase the risk of heat stress. Frequent breaks are advised. Workers feeling dizzy, faint or nauseous are advised to go to a clean area, remove the respirator and seek medical attention.
  • Respirators should be discarded if they become difficult to breathe through or if the inside becomes dirty.


North Country Services to Pay $280,000 Fine for Employee Death

Contractor Mark Welty, d/b/a North Country Services, has withdrawn his contest of $280,000 in fines assessed by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The department cited him for hazards leading to the workplace death of his employee, Nicholson Tinker. Mr. Welty unlawfully claimed that Mr. Tinker as an “independent contractor” rather than an employee, and willfully exposed Mr. Tinker to unsafe working conditions. The citations and fines will stand as originally imposed by Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH).

“Nothing can bring back Nicholson Tinker. I hope this fine sends a clear message. When employers like Mark Welty endanger their workers and unlawfully classify them as independent contractors, our department will seek the strongest penalties possible,” said Alaska Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas.

On September 30, 2016, Mr. Tinker and his coworker were demolishing wooden stairs and walkways attached to a 60-foot retaining wall at an Anchorage residence. As demolition neared completion, the sole remaining structural support was removed, causing a 29-foot section of the five-foot tall cinderblock wall to collapse on Mr. Tinker, who died from his injuries. This fatality would not have happened if North Country Services owner Mark Welty had taken basic steps to protect the safety of Mr. Tinker and other employees. Instead, Mr. Welty accepted the violations as willful, meaning he acted with plain indifference towards the health and safety of his employees. The violations addressed several critical failures during the planning phase of the job, including lack of proper structural assessment before demolition, inadequate or lack of bracing and shoring for the wall and retained earth, and a total lack of safety training for employees.

The department’s investigation found Mr. Welty misclassified his employees as independent contractors in an attempt to avoid the responsibilities all employers have to provide a safe and healthful work environment along with basic employee injury and death benefits. Worker misclassification is especially prevalent in the construction industry, where some contractors deliberately defy labor laws in order to underbid competitors. This unlawful action denies workers their rights to workers’ compensation insurance, minimum wage and overtime compensation, unemployment and social security benefits, and other labor law protections. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development works in cooperation with other state agencies and the U.S. Department of Labor to address the growing problem of worker misclassification.

Mr. Welty also agreed to pay more than $12,000 in penalties to the Alaska Division of Workers’ Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund for failing to insure his employees for workers’ compensation liability as required by law. In addition, the Municipality of Anchorage issued $2,000 in fines to North Country Services for failure to obtain the required permits for the project.

Contractor Cited for Scaffold Hazards at Philadelphia Work Site

A South Jersey construction company owner with a long history of workplace safety violations was cited by OSHA for exposing workers to serious scaffold hazards at a job site in Philadelphia. The owner, Vyacheslav Leshko faces $191,215 in proposed penalties.

OSHA inspectors responded to a complaint of unsafe working conditions at DH Construction, LLC, and discovered employees performing masonry and bricklaying while working on a scaffold that was dangerously close to power lines. The owner was cited for eight repeat and two serious violations for exposing workers to fall and electrical hazards, failing to train employees on scaffold hazards, failing to develop and implement an accident prevention program, and not providing employees with hard hats.

“Scaffolding hazards continue to be one of OSHA’s most frequently cited violations. These well-known scaffold hazards could have been avoided if basic safety practices were implemented,” said OSHA Area Director Theresa Downs, in Philadelphia.”

Leshko was also cited in 2014 for similar violations at worksites for another company he owned, T&S Masonry.

Read more about the recent citations that OSHA issued to Vyacheslav.

Birmingham Company Fined $102,669 for Exposing Employees to Fall Hazards

OSHA cited Structural Subcontractors Service, LLC, for exposing workers to fall hazards. The structural framing company, based in Birmingham, Alabama, faces proposed penalties totaling $102,669.

OSHA initiated an inspection on July 7, 2017, as part of the agency’s regional emphasis program to limit falls in construction. During the inspection, OSHA compliance safety and health officers found workers were wearing fall protection harnesses, but were not tied off to prevent a fall. OSHA issued one willful citation for failing to protect employees from fall hazards and two serious citations for exposing employees to falls of approximately nine feet, and for failing to train employees to recognize fall hazards.

“Falls in construction are a leading cause of fatal injuries,” said OSHA Area Director William Fulcher, in Atlanta. “This company knowingly allowed the framers to work on the roof without fall protection.”

Education and Training Alliance to Focus on Colorado Construction Workers

OSHA and the Western Colorado Contractors Association (WCCA) have signed an alliance to provide the western Colorado’s construction industry with information, guidance, and access to training resources.

The two-year agreement will focus on struck-by, falls, caught-in-between, and electrical hazards in the construction industry. The alliance provides a forum for industry employers, contractors, and employees to meet periodically to discuss best practices to prevent injuries and illnesses.

“Falls continue to be the leading cause of serious and fatal injuries in the construction industry,” said OSHA’s Area Director Herb Gibson, in Denver. “This alliance enables us to combine our resources and increase access to education and training programs on hazards in construction work.”

Through its Alliance Program, OSHA works with businesses, trade associations, unions, consulates, professional organizations, faith- and community-based organizations, and educational institutions to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. For details on OSHA partnerships and alliances, please call OSHA’s toll-free hotline 800-321-OSHA (6742) or OSHA’s Denver Area Office at 303-844-5285.

Pittsburgh Builder and OSHA Align to Promote Workplace Safety

OSHA and Pittsburgh-based P.J. Dick Corp., have established a strategic partnership to promote workplace safety and educate workers on construction hazards during construction of a new office building in Erie.

The project, which will build a seven-floor, 340,000-square-foot office building on French Street, will be occupied by Erie Insurance. It is expected to be completed by spring 2020.

“Our focus is to establish a foundation for the development of an effective safety and health program at the site,” said OSHA Area Director Brendan Claybaugh, in Erie.

The partnership seeks to reduce annual injury and illness rates, control hazards by implementing an effective safety and health management system for the project’s contractors, conduct self-inspections, and train contractors on hazard identification techniques, and foster a working relationship with OSHA. It also will support safety and health campaigns and other initiatives.

Through its Strategic Partnership Program (SPP), OSHA works with employers, employees, professional and trade associations, labor organizations, and other interested stakeholders to establish specific goals, strategies, and performance measures to improve worker safety and health. Visit the OSHA site for more information on the SPP.

MSHARP Workplace Safety and Health Status Renewed for Aria Energy

Aria Energy, a leading provider of baseload renewable energy, was recently awarded renewal of its Michigan Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (MSHARP) certification for outstanding workplace safety and health excellence from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA).

“MSHARP recognizes successful, collaborative efforts of employees and management, in partnership with MIOSHA toward achieving excellence in workplace safety and health,” said MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman. “Aria received its initial MSHARP award in 2015 and has continued to demonstrate a company culture that prioritizes worker safety that is to be commended.” 

The MSHARP is designed to assist smaller employers with less than 250 employees at the worksite. A priority is given to companies on the MIOSHA list of high-hazard industries, or who are a part of MIOSHA’s Strategic Plan to help them develop, implement and continuously improve the effectiveness of their workplace safety and health management system. The program can then target resources where they are most needed. The MSHARP program provides an incentive for employers to emphasize accident and illness prevention by anticipating problems, rather than reacting to them.

The MIOSHA Onsite Consultation Program within the Consultation Education and Training (CET) Division operates the Michigan SHARP Program. Onsite consultants work with employers to help them become self-sufficient in managing occupational safety and health. SHARP worksites earn an exemption from “programmed” MIOSHA inspections on a yearly basis. The MSHARP requires a comprehensive consultation visit and the correction of all serious workplace safety and health hazards to achieve certification.

According to MIOSHA, Aria Energy has an excellent system in place which incorporates each of the seven required MSHARP elements: hazard anticipation and detection; hazard prevention and control; planning and evaluation; administration and supervision; safety and health training; management leadership, and employee participation.

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