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For today's engineer

Industrial Safety

Industrial Safety

Industrial machinery can be dangerous — there’s no disputing that. And one of the most important current trends in robotics is increasing awareness of safety issues. From robots designed to be safer for collaborating humans to a new class of safety warning error codes, many of the technological improvements in industrial engineering focus on keeping people safe.

Some of the impressive safety programs like Bosch Rexroth’s Safety on Board or the growing number of collaborative robots have brought robots out of the cage and greatly lessened the danger of operating machines. This is important progress and the value of these changes can’t be underestimated.

But this isn’t just about machines. While industrial machines may be dangerous, and a freak industrial accident can happen to anyone, even when they’re being careful, the truth is that there is another factor that is responsible for a lot of the danger: human beings.

What happens when machines gain safety features? Humans sabotage them. We move devices that are intended to keep us out of the reach of dangerous machinery. We take off essential safety gear. We adjust lines to go faster than they should.

In a ecent survey, 72% of workers admitted that they don’t always follow safety regulations.

Why? Reasons range from a religious requirement to wear a headscarf that can easily be caught up in a machine to a desperate effort to get an assembly line moving fast enough to please a demanding boss. But while there may be many individual reasons, there are also some common larger categories:

  • Not knowing how to use machinery or safety equipment correctly is a common reason for unsafe behavior. The solution is better training and more frequent safety checks.
  • Some studies have indicated that convenience and speed are the most common factors in decisions that lead to injuries. That is, workers know they should do a task in a certain way, but they cut corners when they’re in a hurry. Actually putting safety first and making it clear that production is not more important than safety can help with this problem.
  • Getting distracted or not paying attention is the third most common category of reasons for failing to follow safety procedures. Changing the environment can help; fewer distractions in the workspace may be beneficial. Safety warning signs may also make a difference in this type of situation.

Rewarding safe work practices can help — older workers, especially, have been found to respond well to these opportunities. Younger workers are more likely to fear injuries than older, more experienced workers who may feel that their skills will keep them safe. However, some studies have found that rewards for a specific number of no-injury shifts and the like can also motivate workers to avoid reporting injuries.