Robots may someday be part of the contingent labor mix, especially for companies looking at total talent management. A robot even made an appearance at this month’s Staffing Industry Executive Forum in Europe. But the rise of their use raises questions about safety.
There were 61 robot-related deaths in the US between 1992 and 2015, and that number could increase, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH. And the agency Monday announced a new center to study the safety and health implications of occupational robots.
“Robots working collaboratively with humans present a new workplace risk profile that is not yet well understood,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, MD.
“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,” Howard said. “NIOSH’s Center for Occupational Robotics Research will provide the scientific leadership needed to ensure human workers are protected.”
While robots aren’t new to the workplace, advancements mean robots are now working alongside, move among or are even worn by humans. In the past, industrial robots have tended to work in isolation.
“We suspect fatalities will increase over time because of the growing number of industrial robots being used by companies in the US, and from the introduction of collaborative and co-existing robots, powered exoskeletons and autonomous vehicles into the work environment,” said Dawn Castillo, director of NIOSH’s Division of Safety Research and program manager of the new center.
Staffing Industry Research has speculated that staffing suppliers may someday supply automated work solutions, and some companies are already offering robots on a temp basis. One example is Knightscope. And a survey by staffing supplier Randstad this year found that 36% of US companies planned to increase their use of robots.