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Navigating Robot Safety

POSTED 08/31/2011  | By: Brette Christe, Technical Writer

v style="margin: 0in 0in 0.1in">Sharing the occupational highway with robots has inherent risks. Industrial robots are heavy and stiff, and can move quickly and in unexpected ways. Like the rules of the road help us stay safe and avoid collisions, these tips may help you along the journey to robot safety. These robots are useful tools, but come with inherent risks.  Make sure the risks, and ways to minimize them, are well known to employees.
(Robot safety programs may include, but not be limited to, the items listed here)
Anticipate Trouble
It’s easier to avoid an accident when you know what might cause one. The ANSI/RIA 15.06 Robot Safety Standard provides industrial safety requirements for industrial robot manufacture, integration and installation, and methods of safeguarding personnel, among other considerations. Use it as a starting point for analyzing risks and predicting outcomes of various behaviors. Then, make sure the risks, and ways to minimize them, are well known to employees. 
  • ANSI/RIA 15.06 – Know the industry standard for robot safety
  • Risk Assessment – Analyze risks and predict outcomes
  • Training – Reduce accidents with well-trained employees
Be Aware of Conditions
Are your lights working? The brakes?  You’re going to want to make sure before you start out on a drive, and you’re going to want to make sure before you start up production too. Are you parking on a hill? Better use your parking brake, and turn your tires toward the curb. Apply these lessons in to the industry – know the condition of your machines, and the general environment before taking off.
  • Inspection – Test for damage/malfunction
  • Redundancies/Safeties – Ensure safeties are in place, and are sufficient for the environment
 Follow an energy control program for isolating and disabling all potential energy sources.
Come to a Complete Stop
Machines often contain a lot of moving devices and a lot of energy, be it your vehicle or your robot. When you’re working outside of normal operations, for items such as service or maintenance, those useful machine movements may now put you in harms way. Among other training programs, ensure employees follow an energy control program for isolating and disabling all potential energy sources to help prevent moveable devices from moving unexpectedly during service or maintenance. 
  • Energy Control Program – Ensure procedures are followed for preventing energy release
  • Energy Isolating Device – Use these devices to prevent unexpected movement
Assume Others Can’t See You
“If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you,” is a sign we should all be familiar with on the road, meaning we are potentially in a truck’s blind spot. On the production line, we need to make a similar assumption  – that we might not be seen, and that others are in our blind spots as well. The use of intuitive indicators and lockout and tag-out labels provide visual cues to reduce blind spots. 
  • Lockout and tag-out – Verify that these are in place to prevent unintended operation
  • Indicators – Use intuitive indicators to keep employees informed of actuation status
This material handling robot is doing some heavy lifting that would be difficult for a person.  But robots and people can and do work together.  Keep if safe using multiple methods to maintain a safe distance between industrial robots and humans.Maintain Safe Spacing
Maintaining safe spacing by not tailgating, and allowing tailgaters to pass are both good safety practices when driving. Similarly, it’s important to establish a restricted space around robots, using barriers and devices that halt robot motion if that space is entered. Placing controls outside of the safeguarded space, in full view of the robot and work envelop, and developing a robot maintenance position, are other methods to help humans and robots maintain safe spacing. Use multiple methods to maintain a safe distance between industrial robots and humans.    
  • Limiting Devices & Barriers – Establish a restricted space around the robot
  • Presence Sensing Devices – Prevent motion of the robot if presence sensed
  • Robot Control Placement – Keep it outside of the safeguarded space, but in full view of the robot and work envelope

Contact Information
JR Automation Technologies LLC is an Integrator Member of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). For additional information, please contact JR Automation Technologies at (616) 399-2168.