Repair tech injured approaching rock lifter, believing power was off.
A Swedish company has been fined the equivalent of $3,000 for a June, 2007 incident in which an industrial robot grabbed a worker’s head and broke four ribs as he was attempting to repair it.
According to a local news site, a maintenance worker in the town of Balsta approached the robot to do some repairs, after believing he had cut off its power supply. As he approached, the robot arm, normally used to lift heavy rocks, reached out and grabbed the man’s head.
He succeeded in freeing himself, though not without injury.
After investigations by both the work-safety authority and the police, a local prosecuting attorney threatened to press charges against the company. The prosecutor eventually agreed to settle for a fine, acknowledging part of the blame should fall on the worker for inadequately securing the machine before approaching it.
Industrial robots are generally considered quite dangerous to approach during operation. They are usually designed for a specific set of functions and are not able to detect an obstacle such as a human standing within the swing radius of a manipulating arm, for example.
For that reason most industrial-robot manufacturers require a safety area be blocked off around the robot so no one approaches while it is operating.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) describes such safety procedures and lays down guidelines to minimize injuries to workers from industrial robots.
Most accidents, its report said, happen while a robot is being programmed, repaired, or walked through the process of learning a new procedure, when technicians are within the danger zone and the robot’s actions are less predictable than under normal conditions.