Industrial Robot Safety Expert Overview

Industrial robots, when designed, manufactured, installed, and integrated correctly, have the potential to reduce injuries by removing humans from repetitive and sometimes dangerous work tasks. Typical applications for industrial robots include welding, painting, assembly, pick and place, packaging and labeling, palletizing, product inspection, testing, and material handling.

This article provides an overview of industrial robotics geared towards litigation attorneys, including some of the potential safety risks in manufacturing environments.

Industrial Robot & Autonomous Manufacturing Expert Witness

Types of Robotics Injuries

There are three primary types of accidents encountered with robotic equipment: Impact or Collision, Crushing and Trapping, and Mechanical Part.    

Impact/collision incidents involve injury or damage caused by the force of being struck by the robot itself, a component of the system, or material handled by the robot. 

Example: The operator of an automatic welder robot made a manual adjustment without stopping the robot.  The operator was struck in the head by one of the robot's moving parts when the next batch of weldments arrived.

Crushing/trapping incidents result from getting entrapped within components of the robotic system, or between elements of the robotic system and the environment. 

Example: The operator of a materials handling robot entered the robot's work envelope during operation and was pinned between the back end of the robot and a safety pole.

Mechanical part incidents are related to faulty or defective components which can allow unexpected operation or an unintended event, such as an accident, to occur. 

Example: A robot's arm functioned erratically during a programming sequence and struck the operator.

Robotics Injuries Typically Occur within the Operating Envelope

Robotic automation systems operate within a physical area known as a “Robot Operating Work Envelope.” This area encompasses the volume swept by all possible programmable robot movements, including areas occupied by tooling and the materials handled.

In many applications, the exposure to hazards within the Robot Operating Work Envelope cannot be designed out. Protection against injury is achieved through a combination of physical guards, presence sensing devices, warning devices and procedural measures. When appropriate, a warning placard identifying the hazard which conforms to the ANSI Z535 series for safety symbols should be followed.

  • Physical guards – physical barriers (walls, doors, cages) designed to prevent access to the operating envelope or other hazardous areas
  • Presence sensing devices – technological devices (light curtains, pressure sensitive mats, etc.) that detect unauthorized entry into hazardous areas and work to eliminate hazardous energy
  • Warning devices – signals designed to help workers react quickly and accurately to a hazardous condition
  • Procedural safety – operating policies and procedures (such as lockout/tagout) that are used to inform workers on how to interact with robotic systems

To the credit of industry, robotic systems have been successful in reducing the prevalence of injury during typical production processes, however injuries tend to occur during the following:

  • Programming
  • Adjustment
  • Testing
  • Cleaning
  • Inspection
  • Repair

Many of these processes require workers to enter the Robot Operating Work Envelope, in some instances while the equipment is energized. An injury involving robotic equipment involves a breakdown in engineering or procedural safety. In most cases, it is a procedural breakdown.

Relevant Safety Standards for Industrial Robots and Robot Systems

The requirement for robotic equipment safety is reinforced by a number of government and industry oversight organizations. As early as 1986, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Robotic Industries Association (RIA) recommended safety requirements for industrial robots and robot systems. This standard was designated as ANSI/RIA R15.06-1986 and has been revised multiple times since its inception.

Additionally, the International Standards Organization (ISO) also provides safety requirements and guidelines for robots and robot systems.

  1. ANSI/RIA R15.06
  2. ANSI/RIA/ISO 10218
  3. RIA TR R15.206
  4. ANSI B11.20

The first three standards above are combined under the Industrial Robot Safety Package umbrella and provide the fundamentals for industrial robots and systems as they pertain to the safety requirements. These safety requirements are applicable to manufacturers, integrators, installers, and personnel. The fourth contains Safety Requirements for Integrated Manufacturing Systems.

Workplace Safety & Automation Accident Investigations

The industrial safety experts at Robson Forensic have designed, built, maintained, and operated a broad variety of industrial machinery. Moreover, our experts have investigated countless mishaps over the years involving all manner of equipment. By retaining Robson Forensic, you are securing the full weight of our collective experience, knowledge, and resources toward the resolution of your case.

Robson Forensic possesses an extensive technical library that houses standards and reference materials dating throughout the modern industrial era. In many forensic investigations, our experts are able to reference industry specific resources to establish the relevant standard of care at the time that a piece of machinery or equipment was designed, built, or modified.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Todd Metcalfe, Facilities Engineering & Industrial Safety Expert

Todd Metcalfe

Facilities Engineering & Industrial Safety Expert
Todd is a Facilities Engineering and Industrial Safety Expert with over two decades of diverse experience in manufacturing and quality engineering for industrial machinery, heavy commercial vehicle… read more.


View All Articles

Electronic Machine Safety Guards

By Kenneth J. Kutchek
Expert Article

In this article, Electrical Engineer, Kenneth J. Kutchek, P.E. provides an introduction to electronic machine safety guards. Designed to enhance the safety of industrial processes and machinery, the…

Conveyor Injuries & Mishaps

By Todd Metcalfe
Expert Article

The experts at Robson Forensic investigate many industrial mishaps to understand how they occurred and to determine the responsibilities of the parties involved. These investigations involve a range…

Machine Guarding & Lockout/Tagout

By Todd Metcalfe
Expert Article

A significant portion of our machine guarding investigations involve situations where machine guards are removed and/or workers place their hands and/or other body parts within a machine’s…