Robots have come to the construction and demolition industry. While they aren’t the autonomous droids from science fiction, they’re still quite useful. Companies are using remote-controlled demolition robots and laser-guided forklifts more and more for jobs that are too risky for people do themselves. When these robots work, they’re amazingly helpful. However, when they don’t, the consequences can be deadly.
A Simple Glitch Can Be Fatal
Some of these machines are designed to work with an operator nearby. Remote-controlled demolition robots, for example, often do their jobs while the human operator stands 10 or 20 feet away and works the control pad. This gives a margin of safety in case a wall caves in, chunks of concrete go flying or something else happens.
However, if the robot’s sensors become obstructed or stop working, the operator often has to open the service hatches and investigate the problem. Many injuries occur when an operator fixes a problem while the robot is still running, which can cause it to swing into action while someone is alongside or underneath it. Several operators have died in these exact circumstances from being crushed or pinned.
How Worried Should You Be?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) tracks workplace injuries and uses their data to help equipment manufacturers. Unfortunately, since robots are still so new in warehouses and construction sites, most workplaces aren’t categorizing them separately from other kinds of injuries. When a robot is involved, often the NIOSH just doesn’t know. As the linked story above shows, these injuries and deaths are certainly occurring. However, it could be years before we know exactly how common they are.
How You Can Protect Yourself
Even for workers who have been in the industry for years, using a remote-controlled robot as part of their job brings an entirely new set of challenges. To ensure that you stay safe, take these steps:
- Don’t go inside the robot’s risk zone until you have fully powered it down or used the emergency stop
- Read the manual and safety instructions thoroughly
- Monitor the power cables and changing risk zone as you work
- Use a proximity warning system if available, which triggers warnings based on how close a worker is to the robot
- Attend any safety training your employer provides
New tools always mean new risks, which construction and demolition workers are used to. However, even you’re an experienced hand, be sure that you give your remote-controlled friends the respect they deserve. Your health and safety depend on it.