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Special safety considerations for robots in the workplace

The use of robotics is increasingly prevalent in many New Jersey industries, and companies that utilize the technology must consider and account for the risks it poses. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have published robotics safety guidance for employers since 1984. To avoid workplace injuries, employers should consider the way workers interact with robotics during programming, adjustment and maintenance.

Employers should implement written safety policies for work performed near or with robotics and set out control procedures, require regular inspections and mandate training for employees. Disciplinary procedures should be established for safety violations. Access to robotics controls and workstations should be restricted to employees who have been properly trained.

Companies making use of robotics should regularly assess and analyze potential hazards to employees. Robotics workstations should be surrounded by a fence at least six feet high. An electronic locking gate should be the only means of access into the enclosure and opening the gate should shut the robot down. Serious on-the-job injuries often occur because robotics or other machinery turn on during maintenance or repair. Employers should design workstations with numerous easily accessible emergency switches, and consider implementing a buddy policy, whereby one employee is always near an emergency shut off switch while another is working in the robotics enclosure. Robotics workstations should also be equipped with presence sensors, such as pressure-sensitive mats or light curtains, which disable the robot when the device senses a person.

Employees who are injured at work may want to ask an attorney if they eligible for workers' compensation coverage under their employer's policy. Benefits that are provided can include the furnishing of medical care and treatment as well as the replacement of a percentage of wages lost while recovering.

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