In the late fall of 2015, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published an article and blog entry describing the increasing complexity of robots and proposing a number of recommendations for protecting workers interacting with robotic workers.

Readers of Isaac Asimov will immediately think of the three laws of robotics, but 21st Century workplaces are nowhere near ensuring that robots uphold the famed first law of robotics:  “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”  Indeed, the NIOSH article cites a fatal injury caused by an industrial robot at a German Volkswagen assembly line on June 30, 2015 where the robot gripped a worker and pressed him up against a metal plate until his chest was crushed.

The question moving forward is how do employers protect their workers from the increasing numbers of robots in the workplace? NIOSH advocates for the following measures to help protect human safety:

  1. Direct involvement of occupational safety and health professionals with the development of international standards;
  2. Workplace safety standards for working alongside and maintaining robots;
  3. Establishment of risk profiles of robotic workplaces;
  4. Redundant safety measures to protect humans performing maintenance tasks on robot workers.

As NIOSH puts it, “[t]hese measures, and others suggested by experts, should be examined now before millions of potentially unsafe robots enter the 21st century workplace.”

Read the full blog post here.