The manufacturing environment of today is unlike one ever seen before.
It’s fast-paced, efficient, connected and digital. Jobs that once took weeks to complete now are effortlessly processed in minutes.
Powered by technological advancements and a vision for the future of manufacturing, today’s factories bear little resemblance to their predecessors.
As that technological prowess becomes more pronounced, more and more dangerous jobs are handed over to ever-advanced robots, creating faster and safer work environments for human workers.
In fact, at the U.S. factories in which there is a significant robot presence (at least 20 percent of work performed automatically), the number of human fatalities and serious injuries has dropped 10 percent in the past two years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But such a shift in risk from humans to robots creates one major issue that OSHA is about to tackle: robot safety.
“Robots are people, too,” OSHA Administrator David Michaels said during a press conference at a newly opened electronics recycling center just outside of Silicon Valley.
Michaels, to a crowd of manufacturers and local legislators, announced the Awareness and Protection of Robotics Industry Layout (APRIL), a national initiative to safeguard robots in the workplace.
“This plan will create a more level playing field. For too long, robots have worked alongside their human counterparts and not received equal treatment,” Michaels said.
OSHA plans to implement a PPE standard for robot employees, and to recommend that manufacturers develop cages for human workers to protect robots from the likelihood of human error.
The move generated immediate industry support.
“This gives me more confidence in sending Sawyer out into the world this summer,” Rethink Robotics president and CEO Scott Eckert said in a heartfelt interview Wednesday.
Rethink, which is known its interactive robot Baxter and for its groundbreaking approach to collaborative robotics, will introduce its newest generation robot Sawyer this year to the North American market.
(Happy April Fools' Day, folks!)