7 Things to Know About Robot Safety Before Attending IRSC

With record numbers of robots now deployed across myriad industries, ensuring employees are safe is more important than ever. Being familiar with the latest safety requirements—and prepared to deploy them along with the robots—is a critical step to the process. For decades, the International Robot Safety Conference (IRSC), hosted by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), has provided this education with technical talks and practical case studies from safety experts. Whether you’re new to robotics and industrial safety or a long-time veteran looking for a refresher or the latest news in the space, you’ll find it at the IRSC (September 27-29, Columbus, Ohio).  

To help everyone get the most out of the experience, we asked Carole Franklin, A3’s director of standards development for robotics, to share her top tips you should know before you set foot in our conference hall:

  1. Different robot safety standards for different types of robots and robot systems. The industrial robotics industry has long had standards to keep workers safe around robots. Safety standards contain safety requirements for industrial robots and robot systems that everyone involved in the manufacture, sales and use of robots should follow. These standards are created and maintained by industry groups with diverse interests to ensure the standards benefit all. They are constantly being updated with improvements or new measures as technologies develop. Below are the key robot safety standards for different robot types.
  • Industrial Robots: The main safety standard for industrial robots, ISO 10218:2011, (Part 1 and Part 2), provides requirements and guidelines for safe design and protection methods. Adopted in the U.S. as ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012, these standards cover the use and set-up of safeguarding equipment, protective measures, and safety risk assessments. These documents permit, but do not explain in detail, the safe operation of collaborative robot systems and mobile robots.
  • Collaborative Robot Systems: The 2016 publication of ISO/TS 15066:2016 (International) and RIA TR R15.606-2016 (U.S.) provided the first guidance to safety requirements for collaborative robot systems. It’s important to realize that it’s the robot system that can be said to be collaborative—not the robot by itself. And, collaborative robot systems are a subset of industrial robot systems—not an alternative to them. These documents, TS 15066 and TR 606, specify safety guidance for collaborative industrial robot systems while still adhering to the fundamental rules established in the foundational standards.
  • Industrial Mobile Robots: The emergence of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and other forms of industrial mobile robots (IMRs) introduced a new set of safety concerns, since they move on their own – and bring any potential hazards with them. To address these concerns, the ANSI/RIA R15.08-1-2020 (Part 1) was developed. Part 2, which covers safety requirements and system integration guidance, is currently in development and will be followed by Part 3, expected to provide safety requirements for users of IMRs and IMR systems (IMRSs).
  1. While the standards aren’t law, they are strongly encouraged: Just ask OSHA. Manufacturers that produce products that conform to these robot safety standards are following the current accepted best practices to ensure that employees are safe in industrial environments that include robot systems. Legally speaking, the robot safety standards are voluntary, but the U.S. federal regulatory agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), looks favorably upon these voluntary standards and companies are actively encouraged to rely upon these standards.

For example, if your company has an injury incident in involving a robot, and the OSHA inspector visits and asks: “Did this robot comply with the R15.06 standard?” If you don't even know what R15.06 is, this could be a red flag. If you know what it is, but for whatever reason, chose not to comply with it, you're also not going to look good. So even though OSHA does not require you by law to follow the robot safety standards, it still relies upon the standards to inform best practices.

  1. Robot system safety doesn’t just apply to the robots: It’s crucial to consider the entire robot system into which the robot is integrated. When performing a risk assessment, companies and systems integrators must also consider the other equipment in the robot system, and even the workpiece or payload that the robot application will handle. A classic example around robot arms is that the arm itself might be power-and-force limited (PFL)—what is popularly called a “collaborative robot”—but if it’s holding a knife or a welding torch, that also needs to be included in the assessment. Similarly, if a mobile robot is transporting hazardous materials around a warehouse, the operation must ensure that safety rules are also followed for the payload, similar to how they would be followed if these same materials were being transported by a human forklift operator.
  2. Everyone has a role in safety. Each standard has different parts that apply to different roles. For example, Part 1 of the ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 standard is for robot manufacturers, and Part 2 is for system integrators. RIA TR R15.706-2018 contains safety best practices for the end-user of the robot system. Each party needs to do their part to ensure end-user employees and others exposed to the potential hazards of robots remain safe.  
  3. It’s impossible to completely eliminate risk – but you can substantially reduce it. The conceptual tool the robot safety community uses to identify hazards and reduce risk is called risk assessment—and it is required for every robot system to be compliant with R15.06.  According to Franklin, the goal with robot safety is to reduce risk to what’s called acceptable residual risk. Organizations deploying robots and their integrators together need to determine what that acceptable residual risk is. (Attend this presentation to learn strategies for when an integrator and end user differ.) And if any of these terms are unfamiliar to you—risk-reduction measure, residual risk—IRSC 2022 offers several talks on Day 3 that are devoted entirely to explaining these concepts, and how to conduct risk assessments on robot systems.
  4. Understand your organization’s safety culture. To get the most out of IRSC, you need to know what your company already knows about robot system safety. Do you know the requirements in the robot safety standards? If your company is completely new to robots, do you know what questions to ask your vendor or system integrator to ensure they are complying with the standards? Do you know what your responsibilities are as a manufacturer or system integrator? If you’ve been using robots for years, are you confident that they conform to the latest standards; and if not, what needs to be done to get them to that point? What kind of safety training is currently being provided to your employees? What holes need to be filled in their knowledge base to ensure employees are safe around any robots? Knowing the answers to these basic questions before arriving will help direct you to the right sessions, so you can ask the right questions.
  5. Why you shouldn’t miss Day 1. Whether you’re completely new to robotics or just need an update, the first day offers a wealth of information to get you started and help set the stage for more in-depth discussions on Days 2 and 3. We open with an introduction of what’s at stake, or why attendees need to know about robotics and safety. This introduction will be followed by a panel discussion on getting started with robot safety from internationally leading safety experts closely involved in both standards development and the implementation of safety practices within their organizations: Otto Goernemann from SICK, Roberta Nelson Shea from Universal Robots and Mark Lewandowski from Procter & Gamble. Following this panel discussion, newcomers to the robot safety world can get a good foundational understanding of the current requirements in R15.06/10218 from R15.06 Committee Chair Todd Dickey. And seasoned robot safety veterans will learn the latest developments when Roberta Nelson Shea returns to the stage to outline anticipated changes in the forthcoming update to the 10218 standards.

Register by September 7 for the discounted rate. See you at the International Robot Safety Conference!