AI-Driven Industrial Robots: Accident Risks & Safety Guidelines

AI-Driven Industrial Robots: Accident Risks & Safety Guidelines

Industries use robots to perform hazardous repetitive and unpopular tasks such as welding, painting, and loading/unloading of heavy materials. With the advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, industrial robots are now handling diverse and increasingly complex tasks.

There is an urgent need to recognize the risks manifesting themselves due to this situation and to create the necessary safety protocols for workplaces.

Causes of Accidents

Accidents involving robotic operations can occur due to three key reasons:

  1. Accident due to a robotic part or tool within the robot’s control
  2. Failure of any of the robotic parts
  3. Uncontrolled power supply

Accidents due to a collision

The robot’s moving parts, such as its arm, associated devices, and add-on spares can collide with an unexpected surface or an individual when:

  • A glitch occurs in any component
  • Moving parts shift unexpectedly
  • Its operating program malfunctions

Accidents due to getting pinned under

The robot’s arm, body, or heavy accessories can crush a worker’s limb, even entire body.

Accidents due to mechanical parts

Several types of mechanical failures can occur while operating a robot. They include:

  • Parts being released improperly
  • Gripper mechanism malfunctions
  • Power tool malfunctions (examples of such tools include: grinding or buffering tools, deburring tools, power screwdrivers, nut runners, etc.)

A failure of the robot’s drive components, tooling add-ons, external components and related equipment, or its power supply is deemed a mechanical accident.

Accidents due to miscellaneous causes

A few other causes can also lead to accidents involving robots. These may include:

  • The robot’s primary power source equipment poses electrical and pressurized fluid risks.
  • Broken hydraulic lines can lead to risky cutting/whipping streams.
  • Arc flash, metallic spatter, electromagnetic or radio-frequency disturbance, fine dust etc. pose serious environmental hazards.
  • Loose cables left unattended on the floor can cause accidents due to tripping.

Categories of Risks Leading to Accidents

AI-powered industrial robots can pose risks to human beings and property due to many reasons.

Human Error

Human operators are often unaware of idle-time actions occurring inside a robot during its use. Due to this lack of knowledge, they could expose themselves and others close by, to unnecessary risk. Some of the risky human activities leading to accidents include:

  • Programming errors
  • Inaccurately powered peripheral equipment
  • Connecting microprocessors to live input/output sensors making the robot move unpredictably
  • Inaccurate activation of the control panel (“teach pendant”)

Control Malfunction

Some common issues with the robot’s controls are:

  • Faults in the core system
  • Software issues
  • Electromagnetic/radio frequency disturbance
  • Faulty sub controls—hydraulic, pneumatic/electrical.

Unauthorized Access

Unapproved entry into the region within the robot’s area of operation without the clear knowledge of its safety norms can lead to avoidable accidents. This should be strongly discouraged for the workers’ own safety.

Mechanical Malfunction

The robot’s operating AI software program may be unable to assimilate the failure of any of its mechanical parts involved in its operation, leading to unanticipated movements by the robot’s moving limbs.

Environmental Hazards

Any disturbance to electromagnetic or radio signals being transmitted can lead to erratic behavior on the robot’s part, causing accidents. For this reason, all risks associated with such disturbances should be recorded before installing the equipment.

Power Issues

Any failure or interference in the pneumatic, hydraulic, or electrical control and transmission systems of the robot can alter the signals to the main control and power lines. Electrical shock can occur, or stored energy may be released from faulty devices. There is also a risk of fire due to:

  • Electrical overload
  • Inflammable hydraulic oil

Wrong Installation

If the design, equipment layout, availability of utilities and other facilities, additional requirements, etc. are violated, then the risk during use is increased.

Safety Recommendations for the Manufacture of AI-Powered Robots

  1. All robots should comply with basic design protocols to be safe for use. Several factors must be considered while building a robot or industrial use. When older robots are upgraded or revamped, they should be made compliant with current industry norms.
  1. Safe design and manufacture should be the basis on which every robot is built, modified, or rebuilt. Disregard for these two can lead to accidents. All mechanical parts, controls, operational processes, etc. should comply with minimum regulatory norms to be safe for use.
  1. Both the manufacturer’s instructions and the industry’s guidelines should be followed while installing robots. Use temporary safeguards to minimize risks during the installation process. Some areas to pay attention to concerning amenities, additional equipment, and the operating environment are:
  • Installation guidelines
  • Physical layout
  • Electrical infrastructure
  • Movement of the robot’s accessories
  • Operator identification protocol
  • Needs for control and emergency halts
  • The robot’s operating space on the ground
  1. Follow OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout standards while servicing or repairing the robots, and adhere to safety protocols during operations and installation of all robots and robot systems.

Regulating and Protecting Personnel

From planning to using robots at the workplace, certain key considerations are essential.

Understanding the Risk

Assess risk and document findings at each stage of the robot system development. Each stage has diverse requirements concerning the safety of system and manpower. The level of safeguards recommended by the risk assessment needs to be implemented.

Protective Equipment

Protect the personnel working in limiting spaces under risky conditions using protective equipment such as:

  • Mechanical limiting equipment
  • Non-mechanical limiting equipment
  • Presence –sensing safeguards
  • Barriers confining moving parts
  • Barrier guards with interlocking edges

Warning Devices

Some ways to warn people from loitering in restricted zones is to place ropes or chains with lights, signboards, hooters, or alarms. Combining them with other safety devices is popular.

Protecting the Instructor

Extra care should be taken to ensure the safety of the instructor programming the robot. During the initial programming, the person inputting the code for the task has complete control over the robot and its various parts. They should also have proper knowledge of the:

  • Tasks to be programmed
  • Interfacing systems
  • Functions related to control and operation of a robot

With complex systems, activating the wrong functions or sequencing them erroneously can happen easily. The instructor has to complete all the tasks while being within the restricted envelope (confined space within which the robot operates) of the robot system. Protecting the individual against these risks is important.

Inaccurate programming can activate the wrong parts, leading to accidents. To avoid this, the speed of the robot, during training, should be restricted, so that even if an inadvertent incident occurs, the damage is minimal.

Protecting the Operators

While the robot is being used, the individual behind the controls should be protected. While in auto-operation mode, all safety devices of the robot should be turned on, and the operator should stay outside the limits of the robot’s area of operation and reach.

Activate all the robot’s continuous operation safety mechanisms when a technician is within the robot’s restricted area to study the robot’s motion and other actions. In addition:

  • Restrict the robot’s speed
  • Keep it in teach mode
  • Give operator full control over the robot and robot systems

Protecting the Service Staff

Due to the diverse nature of their tasks, protecting the safety of personnel involved in service and repairs is a big challenge. Some of the activities they need to carry out include:

  • Addressing issues with the robot, its controls, tools, etc.
  • Software program review
  • Routine maintenance
  • Adjusting tools and gauges
  • Recalibration of devices

Keep the robot in manual training mode during all maintenance tasks. The activities should be done within the restricted envelope of the robot. All robot system safeguards are disabled in this mode, making service a risky process.

Routine Upkeep

A regular upkeep routine based on frequent inspection is essential for all robots and robot systems. These reviews should be as per manufacturer recommendations and instructions of third party component providers among others. These reviews will help address and reduce accidents due to:

  • Breakdown of individual components
  • Broken parts
  • Unanticipated actions by the robot and its peripherals

To ensure the longevity of the machine, documentation of the findings of the periodic reviews along with details of individuals carrying out these inspections is also vital.

Training the AI-Powered Robot Operators

AI robots run on pre-programmed software. Due to this, in most cases—except in the event of a breakdown or malfunction—its actions can be anticipated with ease. That is the reason why workers handling robots or working within their restricted perimeter need to be given adequate training to plan their moves.

All personnel who work on the robot or its systems—programmers, operators, maintenance staff, repair technicians— should receive training on the mandatory safety precautions they need to take before commencing work.

Post-training certification to validate that they are capable of working safely is also critical. This kind of training can help reduce workplace accidents in all areas related to highly advanced AI-driven robots and robot systems.

Watch YouTube Video: AI Industrial Robots Taking Over Assembly Line Manufacturing. This video features a team of engineers who are creating the next generation of AI robots that could be smarter and more adaptable than the robots today.

Machine Accident Lawyers in Sacramento

I’m Ed Smith, a machine accident lawyer in Sacramento. If you or someone you know has been injured while using an AI-powered robot at work, call me for a free consultation at 916-584-9355.

I’ve helped many clients throughout Northern California with wrongful death and personal injury cases for the past 36 years. My firm is dedicated to helping you and your family obtain the full compensation you deserve.

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