Automation, Security and Robotic Systems | woodruff sawyer

The creative pace of solution seekers always seems to outpace regulations and controls. In some ways that can be good, and in some ways it can create unforeseen dangers when these solutions, such as robotics and automation, are introduced into a workplace.

What you need to know about current automation guidelines

It’s no secret that automation has advanced and the pace of this expansion has far exceeded current safety regulations. The current guidelines on the OSHA website were written in 1987, and the previous technical chapter was written in the early 2000s. In September 2021, OSHA published a new technical manual chapter titled, Industrial robot systems and safety of industrial robot systems.

Although a technical manual is not a regulation, it is the material used by OSHA to educate its service agents and the basis from which an OSHA service agent may choose to apply 1910.147 ( control of hazardous energy), subpart O (guarding of machinery), or even the general obligation to cite an employer clause.

It’s worth mentioning that 1910.147 and Subpart O consistently appear in the top 10 most cited standards year after year, and in some industries they frequent the top two or three. Most importantly, the chapter helps employers and safety professionals develop systems to protect employees against a unique set of hazards. It breaks down some of the individual elements of moving a robotic system from manufacturing to actual integration, setup, and use in the workplace.

Putting robotics into practice

When moving to using robotic automation, a key consideration is how a robotic workstation can be integrated into the specific workplace and task for which it is intended. Some companies choose to have a third party onboard and some may decide to use their own in-house expertise.

Using a third party transfers a certain level of risk, provided the contract is written properly with favorable assurance language. It is also possible for the employer to require the third party to carry out analyzes of the professional risks associated with the different works that will be carried out in this specific workplace, with or around the robotic system. This may include operators, programmers (teachers), maintenance, cleaning or others.

Each work task may require a different control mode, lead to different hazards, and have different guards and sensors dedicated to the mode the robot must be in during specific tasks. They may also have different rules and requirements that apply to each specific task. The complex nature of integration makes planning and careful, detailed work specific to each job and task essential, whether the planning is done in-house or with the help of a third party.

What you need to know about integrating exterior protection and security systems

Some of the work and planning done during integration may also include choosing and installing guardrails, interlocks, light curtains or other sensors that are not always “supplied” with the robot but which must be integrated into the control system and which are unique. to this specific application and set up. Integration is all the more important since the security and control system decided upon during integration is the one on which the employer will rely to protect its employees over time.

Whether collaborative (direct interaction with humans) or non-collaborative (no direct interaction with humans) robots are used determines the type of sensors, protection and programming that will be combined to protect employees. Collaborative robot setups will rely more on proximity sensors, speed controls, and programming to keep employees safe. This adds to the complexity of integration and programming and can increase the incentive to use a third party with extensive experience in integrating collaborative robots and seek favorable insurance terms while securing their services.

The differences between these two types of robots have resulted in the writing of two different ANSI standards. ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 applies to non-collaborative robots and safety measures while RIA TR R15.606-2016 applies to collaborative robots.

How Employers Should Handle Robotics

Over time, protection schemes, control systems, type and position of sensors, end effectors (the robots implement to touch and work on the product) or other elements determined by the installer or the manufacturer may need to change. When considering making these changes on your own or hiring the manufacturer and/or installer to make these changes, it may be worth considering some of the topics covered in our previous blog on protection and the responsibility. An employer could assume manufacturer’s liability or void contractual protections if changes are made to the original manufacturer, installer design or configuration.

For certain functions and entry into the protected area, hazardous energy controls (LOTO) must be used. In some cases, you can expect equivalent protections, depending on several different factors, including whether the entry meets all of the 1910.147 exceptions. Bearing in mind that the correct mode must be selected on the control panel for different protection mechanisms to work, you can see how easy it would be for an employee to enter a protected area in the wrong mode and get lost. to injure. You must identify and control all of these types of potential system hazards when implementing.

A scenario that might help explain why such careful planning is warranted is the following. Operators are normally not also programmers and therefore should not use teach pendants and learn modes. The learn mode selector buttons or controls are not locked on most control panels that operators have access to.

If an operator uses a non-collaborative robotic arm in the automatic mode and appropriate interlocked barriers are in place, then when the outer door is opened, the arm should stop immediately or stop within seconds. If the mode is changed to learning mode and the operator accesses the same restricted area, it is possible that the robot will move and pin them.

Potentially the only difference would be the position of the mode select button or controls effectively bypassing multiple protective safety sensors.

Final Thoughts on Robotic Automation

When turning to robotic automation, employers should require their operations, risk management and safety personnel to:
  • Consult the OSHA technical manual.
  • Use the applicable ANSI standard.
  • Read and link the manufacturer’s manual to other reference materials.
  • Ensure the production of detailed JAIs and training.
  • Determine whether the system integration and production JHA should include a third-party resource.
  • Review and ask your broker to review your contracts with manufacturers, installers and integrators to ensure that the most favorable transfer of risk possible is part of the contract.

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