Safer Factory Automation- While the implementation of robotics and automation can help manufacturers and other types of businesses speed production and drive efficiencies, it doesn’t always have quite the same positive effect on workplace safety. Without question, introducing automation can reduce certain types of worker injuries, such as those typically associated with repetitive upper arm motion and lifting; however, without the appropriate planning, robots and automated processes can also trigger an increase in other types of injuries, including in some instances those with catastrophic consequences.
When properly planned, robotics and automation projects are preceded by a detailed ergonomics analysis or completed improvement project to justify the investment. Yet, in some situations where automation was designed to reduce one type of risk, it has a problematic side-effect of introducing new risk factors that weren’t originally anticipated.
In an environment where automation often will be essential to achieving efficient increases in domestic production, operations executives need to be able to anticipate the variety of new tasks that may be required of employees following the installation of robots or other types of process automation. They also need to be able to assess any new risks to employees associated with their changing roles.
For instance, even when positions involving repetitive and non-complex jobs are replaced by automation, the employees may move into new roles that are not only highly repetitive, but also more complicated or even physically strenuous to perform or monotonous. This could lead to increases in work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), mental fatigue, higher error rates, and a deterioration of overall quality.
Certainly, those who have done a thorough job on the ergonomics assessment prior to implementing automation should know not only what types of risks the automation will likely eliminate, but also any significant new exposures that might come into play. By using more objective data, such as that obtained through the use of wearables, these pre-assessments might yield more insights on any new workplace exposures arising from automation that employee safety practices will need to address.