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ROBOTIC RESOURCES

Reflections on Safety

by Jeff Fryman, Director, Standards Development
Robotic Industries Association

The National Robot Safety Conference has just concluded on a very successful note.  Attendance was strong (nearly 160, the most since 2001) as was the line-up of speakers.  It was a great four days devoted to safety.  I am now flying across the Pacific to Japan for our next series of International Standardization Organization (ISO) meetings on revising the international robot safety standard.  The flight has given me time to reflect on inter-relationships, particularly as they relate to safety.
 
Simply stated, accidents are rarely a single event but rather an accumulation or chain of events that finally result in an accident.  These events are usually foreseeable, or at least the indicators are present.  How many times have you described something (or someone) as ‘‘an accident waiting to happen?’‘  What were the indicators?  What was foreseeable about the event?  Safety is everyone’s responsibility.  When talking industrial safety this also means being aware of the work environment around us and potential hazards to which we are routinely exposed.
 
One question which was asked at the conference sticks with me – statistics suggest that nearly 90% of all accidents and incidents involve a deliberate action by a person, i.e. they bypass or defeat a designed safeguard or they fail to perform a necessary procedure.  The question then was if this is the case, what are we doing to address the problem of attitude and personal actions?
 
We have been successful in developing standards for technical solutions, design criteria, safeguarding and the like.  In fact we just had four days of discussions on the robot safety standard, the B11 series of machine tool safety standards, the new Z244.1 standard for control of hazardous energy and other inter-related machine guarding standards, both domestic and international.
 
No matter how many standards we write or how good we design safety into a machine, if we don’t remove the incentive to take a short-cut or defeat a safeguard we have not achieved our goal of improved safety in the work place.  A key consideration here is to properly identify the necessary tasks and make sure all are addressed by adequate safeguarding.  This highlights the need for performing a risk assessment, a recurring theme from the safety conference.  Routine and repetitive tasks can lead to complacency, especially if we have designed a guard or procedure which inhibits a person from performing the task quickly and safely.
 
Another issue is meeting expectations.  Your personnel have a right to assume you have provided them adequate safety to perform a task.  Have you?  Are the designed safeguards installed and functioning properly to provide adequate safety for the tasks?  Have procedures been developed and written which are clear and obtainable?  If lockout is the only available procedure for guarding a task which requires power to perform it, we haven’t met expectations.  An alternative method of safeguarding against the release of hazardous energy would be needed since a zero-energy state cannot be maintained and still perform the job.
 
People don’t think unsafe, but they will attempt to perform their assigned jobs as they see necessary.  They will also expect installed safeguarding to be adequate.  This is very important for those of us tasked to design and install safety systems on equipment.
 
The many standards we have today are ever more inter-related and complimentary in providing design and installation guidelines and requirements.  We must continue to follow that guidance with evermore due diligence to ensure machine safeguarding is adequate.
 
Safety is everyone’s business.  Talk it up.

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