NIOSH to Research Health, Safety Implications of Occupational Robots

Published October 18, 2017

​On Monday, NIOSH announced the launch of its new Center for Occupational Robotics Research, which is intended to assess the potential benefits and risks of robot workers and develop guidance for safe interactions between humans and robots. Advancements in sensing technology have led to the development of smarter, collaborative robots that work alongside, move among, or are worn by human workers, NIOSH notes in its press release. According to agency researchers, 61 robot-related workplace deaths occurred between 1992 and 2015. The center will monitor trends in injuries associated with both traditional and emerging robotics technologies such as wearable robotics or powered exoskeletons and remotely controlled or autonomous vehicles and drones.

Other activities will include evaluating robotics technologies as sources of and interventions for workplace injuries and illnesses; establishing risk profiles of robotic workplaces; and supporting the development and adoption of consensus safety standards. The center will also conduct research to improve the safety, health, and wellbeing of humans working with robots and robotic technologies, and develop and communicate best practices, guidance, and training for safe interactions between human workers and robotics technology. The center’s research priorities include robot-related incident surveillance and hazard analyses, robot incident risk factors, and robot-related safety communications.

“Not only is this a new field for safety and health professionals, little government guidance or policy exists regarding the safe integration of robots into the workplace,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, MD. “NIOSH’s Center for Occupational Robotics Research will provide the scientific leadership needed to ensure human workers are protected.”

Learn more about the new center and NIOSH’s role in robotics on the agency’s website.

Related: Wearable Help,” a feature article published in the May 2016 Synergist, explores the potential applications of human exoskeletons.