Automation is the use of robotics and computer automated programs in the workplace to carry out job tasks which were historically performed by human beings alone. In most industries, the robotics and automated computer program do not work in isolation with humans still having a significant role in the automated industries and business environment (Shaw, 2018). As a result, humans are exposed to further potential safety hazards as they interact with automated machines in the workplace. OSHA plays a significant role under the department of labor to ensure employee safety in the workplace through safety guidelines (United States Department of Labor. n.d.). As a result, there is the need for quick intervention and creation of safety guidelines in the automated working environment to promote employee safety. Although OSHA has been engaged in addressing safety concerns in the automated work environment the organization is yet to provide any set of regulations. However, OSHA has published safety guidelines on robotics safety from as early as 1987 (Mathiason et al., 2016). The work environment is highly becoming automated which necessitates the creation of regulations to protect and improve the employees working in the automated spaces. This paper will assess the impact of automation on OSHA compliance by organizations.
Situation Analysis of Robotics and Employee Safety
Robotics and industrial automation is a new element that OSHA does not have specific standards and regulations. The lack of regulations places millions of workers working in automated industries and work environment at risk. The fact that it takes time to make regulations which make it a challenge for OSHA to catch up with the growing automation of the workplaces and industries (Mathiason et al., 2016). Most compliance officers are not aware of technology and robotics which makes it even difficult to achieve the required compliance and protection of employees from automation and robotic hazards. The United States safety standards on equipment require that machine guarding to be used to protect the operator and those employees in the operating area (Mathiason et al., 2016). However, automated and robotics needs more than machine guarding regulations to protect employees in the robots working area. Unlike other machines that are in control of human beings, the automatic robots in the workplace make it difficult for OSHA to create safety mechanisms. According to OSHA, robots are also machines and should be safeguard using machine guard like any other machine. Programming, maintenance, adjustments, and testing conditions place humans in the robotic environment at greater risk as they interact with robots (Horton et al., 2018). Operators and programmers are at the risk of walking within the robotic working environment which could have dire consequences. Machine guarding has played a significant role towards protecting humans from robotic hazards, but more is desired. OSHA lockout regulations play a significant role in protecting operators and employees from workplace robotics (Mathiason et al., 2016). However, the increasing number of machinery and robotics in the workplace increases the risk and hazards exposed to employees which calls for more stringent regulations to protect employee within the working range of robotics.
Current OSHA Guidelines on Robotics and Automated Machinery
Currently, OSHA only has an online manual for workplace robotics and does not have a set of regulations that cover robotics in the workplace. The online manual purpose is to inform employers on hazards that robotics and automated machinery pose on their employees. For instance, OSHA identifies malfunctions and errors in the robotics and machines programming as a major threat to the safety of the employees. The possible breakdown of the machinery and the sensors used to operate the robots could make the robots to function in a hazardous manner which further endangers the safety of the employees within its working environment. As a result, OSHA has created considerations for employers who use robotics and automated machinery (United States Department of Labor. n.d.). The considerations include the types of accidents and the source of the accidents which enable the employers to be prepared on ways to address possible accidents.
OSHA Robotics and Automated Machinery Regulations Gap
As identified earlier, OSHA does not have regulations on robotics and automated machinery. OSHA has a responsibility of creating standards and enforcing them to ensure that the employers comply with the set standards. Through work inspections and investigations, OSHA can ensure compliance and those that do not meet the established standards are issues citations and also OSHA can assess for penalties. However, regarding robotics and machinery automation, most of the inspection officers are incompetent and also OSHA does not have the necessary regulations that can be enforced. Therefore, the significant knowledge gap and the lack of regulations pose a significant threat to employee's safety working in the automated and around robotics. The development of robotics and artificial intelligence is going to be inevitable and exponential in the future. OSHA should be prepared to safeguard the safety and health of the employees who will work alongside the future robotics and automated machinery. OSHA policies and laws will significantly be affected in the future due to the new risks and hazards that employees will be exposed to. Although employers should ensure that they comply with OSHA regulations as they introduce new technologies in the workplace, organizations should remain in compliance with the existing standards such as machine guarding, lockout procedures, and machinery governing. The OSHA standards on robotics are outdated and insufficient in providing health and safety in the future working environment. The OSHA guidelines seeking to ensure robotic safety were issued in 1987 and lastly updated in 1992 which signifies a significant time deficit as new technologies continue to be developed (Mathiason et al., 2016). At the time that the guidelines issued robotics and automated machines were not rampant in the working environment and most still were under the control of human beings. As of today, artificial insurance is creating robotics and automated machines that can regulate themselves which increases the employee's risk and makes the working environment more hazardous (Shaw, 2018). Other current standards like those developed by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization Standardization (ISO) Standards are voluntary and can only provide organizations with guidance but lacks authoritative enforcement (Mathiason et al., 2016).
Approaches through which OSHA can Address Robotics and Automated Machinery Hazards
It is clear that the growing adoption of robotics and artificial intelligence technology poses new issues in maintaining occupational safety (Shaw, 2018). OSHA unpreparedness regarding regulations and voluntary enforcement of the existing laws increases the risk facing employees in automated working environments. The following are approaches that OSHA can take to improve employee safety in organizations with robotics and automated machines.
Proactive Safety Training for Employees
With the introduction of new robotics and automated machines, OSHA can increase employee safety by making it a regulation for the employers to provide employees with regular proactive training on safety. Through the guidelines that OSHA introduced in 1987, employers can identify the risks that new robotics and automation of machines pose to employees and offer proactive training to make employees more prepared for eventualities that can endanger their safety. Training can be able to prepare employees for any contingencies and how to handle robotics malfunction due to programming errors or human error (Murashov et al., 2016). Further, the employees will be made aware of the organization internal safety measures that are in place to promote employee safety in the organizations. OSHA can design training manuals and activities as well as refresher programs that increase the employee's readiness in a work environment with robotics and automated machines. Therefore, training and refresher programs are one of the approaches through which OSHA can handle the new risks issues that arise due to the use of robotics and the automation of work machinery.
Timely Robotics and Automated Machinery Maintenance
Maintenance regulations is another important and feasible approach through which OSHA can be able to increase employees' safety in work environments that have robotics and automated machinery. As noted earlier, the main cause of robotics and automated based incidents in organizations that can result in risking the health of the employees are due to programming, maintenance and systems malfunction a situation that can be addressed by ensuring that robotics and automated machinery are timely maintained to check for possible errors (Murashov et al., 2016). OSHA should stipulate the time that robotics and automated machinery should be under maintenance and ensure that the OSHA inspectors ensure that organizations and employers adhere to the set operation time and maintenance intervals. This approach can significantly reduce the potentiality of deadly accidents occurring due to system failures by ensuring that every robot operating in an environment with employees is maintained properly to ensure proper programming and troubleshooting to identify any problems.
Movement Policies to Prevent Human and Machinery Unintended Contact
Unauthorized access in the robot safeguarded areas is hazardous to the employees because only specialists are aware of the safeguards (Horton et al., 2018). OSHA should create strict movement policies that every organization should adopt which reduces accidental crushes between humans and machines in the automated machinery working environment. As identified earlier, accidental movements within the working environmental put employees under danger of accidentally encountering robotics and automated machinery that are hazardous to human beings. As such, the human and machines working environment should have a boundary that will be enforced by the OSHA inspectors to increase employees safety in the working environment.
Educating the OSHA Compliance Officers on Robot Safety
Educating the OSHA compliance officers can significantly contribute to safety in the work environments where there are automated machines and robots. Most of the OSHA compliance officers are not engineers and robotic specialists which makes it difficult to enforce future OSHA regulations on automated machines and robotic safety. As such, OSHA should invest in employing inspectors who are technology conversant and aware of the risks posed by robots and automated machines to improve employee safety (Perkon, 2016). In addition to educating inspectors, OSHA should partner with the robotic producers to create safety manuals that employers should use in addition to the regulations that will be created to safeguard employee safety in the age of robotics.
There is a significant impact of automation on OSHA safety compliance due to the lack of regulations that can be enforced to improve safety in a work environment that has robots and automated machines. There is a significant challenge towards promoting employee safety in the new work environment due to the surge in automation and robotics. OSHA lacks strong regulations and only has guidelines that were created many decades ago which makes them inefficient in regulating safety in the new work environment. As such, OSHA should create regulations that are professionally inf...
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