In any workplace, safety must be a top priority. A safe workplace contributes to productive and profitable operations.

Knowing which technologies, solutions, and workplace initiatives to invest in for maximum return on profitability, productivity, and safety is not easy. Technology alone does not necessarily breed improvements and relying solely on safety programs and education is not the answer.

Enter autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). AMRs offer a balance between safety, productivity, and profitability. With the right AMRs and fleet control software, workplace safety improves, productivity increases, and the return on investment (ROI) is heightened in both the short- and long-term.

The safety of your employees, products, and operations has a significant impact on operational efficiency and profitability. In this first of our two-part series on automation and workplace safety we focus on AMRs and their role in safety, and in our second article we discuss the roles and responsibilities of the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner in workplace safety.

Watch the Mobile Robot Safety: Risks, Responsibilities and ROI webinar to learn from Justin Holwell, Director of Hardware and Controls Engineering, about the ways AMRs impact workplace safety.

What Makes AMRs Safe?

Built-in sensors, LiDAR scanners, simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) capabilities, and fleet control software, ensure AMRs can sense, respond, and react to objects and people in their path – substantially reducing risk of injury and accidents.

AMRs are robots engineered to navigate autonomously along pre-defined paths throughout factories, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities to transport and deliver materials.

All too frequently workplace injuries occur when visibility is limited or obstructed, for example a forklift operator cannot see their surrounding area due to a large load on the forks. This can lead to crush injuries when a person is caught between a forklift and an object, tip-overs when the forklift operator attempts to turn quickly to avoid a collision or result in product damage and human injury when a forklift clips shelving, causing the shelving to collapse.

The impacts of these risks and accidents run deep within a workplace, contributing to productivity loss, absenteeism due to injury, long- and short-term employee injuries and even death, increased insurance and liability costs, and product damage.

Data from the Industrial Truck Association, OSHA, and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights how dangerous manually operated machinery is:

  • OSHA estimates forklifts annually cause 85 fatal accidents, 34,900 accidents with serious injury, and 61,800 non-serious injuries.
  • With an estimated 855,900 forklifts in the U.S. and the useful life of a forklift at 8 years – this means 90% of all forklifts are involved in some type of accident. This does not account for forklifts involved in multiple accidents.

Moving material does not need to be a risky business. Designed to operate safely alongside people, a well-designed AMR system improves safety with:

  • Emergency stop functionality
  • Built-in sensors for personnel and object detection
  • Over-speed detection to monitor robot speed
  • On-board safety controller managing robot navigation decisions
  • Warning lights and audible signals to alert people of the robot’s presence and movements
  • Defined keep out zones to prevent the robot from entering the area

AMRs give employees the confidence of predictable movements, paths, and responses – this trickles over into increased job satisfaction, productivity, and profitability.

The Facts on AMR Regulatory Safety Requirements and Standards

There are two types AMR regulatory safety requirements and standards crucial to creating a safer workplace:

  1. Regulatory standards defined by OSHA in the U.S. These standards are compulsory and must be adhered to by law.
  2. Industry standards defined by organizations to improve AMR safety requirements. While these standards are voluntary, it is in the best interest of the robot manufacturer, integrator and owner to follow them.

To combat the gaps in outdated standards designed for automated guided vehicles (AGVs), two new standards have recently been released with specifications for AMRs:

  • ISO 3691-4 was published in February 2020. It specifies safety requirements and the means for their verification for driverless industrial trucks and their systems.
  • ANSI/RIA R15.08 was published in January 2021. It provides technical requirements for the design of industrial mobile robots to support the safety of people who work near them.

These put the onus of responsibility squarely on the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner to ensure AMRs are used responsibly and that appropriate risk assessments are undertaken. 

When researching AMR systems, it’s important to ask questions of the robot integrator and manufacturer about adherence to safety standards, safety features on the robots, and knowledge of how the AMRs ensure safety standards are upheld.

In the second article of our AMR workplace safety series, we discuss the roles and responsibilities of the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner in workplace safety and adhering to regulatory safety standards.

Safety is a Shared Responsibility

The robot manufacturer, integrator, owner, and employees all have important roles in workplace safety. While AMR systems have integrated safety sensors, use the latest in radar technologies, and are powered by fleet control software – the robot cannot do it all when it comes to safety.

Capabilities such as defining collision-avoidance operations to establish safety zones and obstacle detection and restart intelligence help AMRs support a safe workplace. But these depend on the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner understanding what makes a safe work environment.

Robot Manufacturer

The robot manufacturer must prioritize designing an AMR that adheres to the latest OSHA and industry standards. Ideally, the manufacturer should consider how current and future technologies can be integrated to go above and beyond industry safety requirements.

AMRs must include emergency controls, built-in sensor capabilities, safety functions, warning signals and lights, personnel and object detection, overspeed controls, and more.

Robot Integrator

The robot integrator is responsible for assessing the entire workspace or system to ensure AMRs can be used safely. This includes understanding how features such as doorways, other equipment, high-traffic areas, transfer points, and other system features impact the ability of AMRs to function effectively.

Robot Owner

The robot owner is responsible for buying a robot that is deemed safe and adheres to the latest safety regulations and standards. This requires the robot owner to understand workplace safety risks and hazards, how AMRs can integrate into the workplace, and the best way to educate employees on interacting with and operating AMRs.

The robot owner and integrator must work together when bringing robots into the operations. If the robot owner is also the integrator, the owner must be fully aware of the integrator’s role in designing and deploying AMR systems and workplace safety.

It is important to remember that buying a safe robot is only the first step in improving workplace safety and reducing risk. Knowing what makes a safe operation and how AMRs integrate is crucial.

Watch our Mobile Robot Safety: Risks, Responsibilities and ROI webinar to learn how the robot manufacturer’s safety team and experts can help ensure a successful AMR deployment.

In the second article of our AMR workplace safety series, we discuss the roles and responsibilities of the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner in workplace safety.

Risk Assessment and Your Operations

Risk assessment starts with the robot manufacturer and extends through to employees during day-to-day operations. Working with the robot manufacturer and integrator, the robot owner must create a risk assessment process specific to their work environment and how AMRs will be used.

A risk assessment checklist helps you understand the risk in your environment. Make sure you assess the entire workplace to determine areas of risk and for each risk evaluate:

  • Severity of injury
  • Frequency and duration of a hazard
  • Possibility of avoiding the hazard or limiting harm
  • Alternative pathways and walkways
  • How risk can be mitigated or prevented
  • Danger and keep out zones
  • Stable loading and payload guidelines
  • Robot behavior in areas such as walkways and intersections
  • Transfer point requirements
  • Acceptable speed limits and speed control capabilities

The risk assessment process is as important as buying safe robots. Contact us to discuss your facility, our safety team is ready to help.

ROI, Safety, and Profitability

When employees are worried about colliding with a forklift or are not confident in how to safely interact with workplace vehicles, productivity goes down, and liability risks and damage losses increase.

An investment in AMRs extends beyond reducing accident risks and productivity lags by creating a safe and predictable operation. AMRs can help mitigate traditional workplace costs and loss including:

  • Absenteeism due to injuries, which leads to lost productivity
  • Employee replacement and training costs
  • Costs associated with business & health insurance, as well as disability claims
  • Equipment damage
  • Product damage
  • Counter-measures deployed to address safety concerns

The ROI of bringing AMRs into your operations helps reduce the liability costs that come with manually-driven machinery. AMRs mean fewer vehicles, less congestion, fewer accidents – all contributing to increased throughput efficiency, reduced operating costs, and improved product quality.

In our Mobile Robot Safety: Risks, Responsibilities and ROI webinar, Justin Holwell, Director of Hardware and Controls Engineering at AutoGuide, provides an interesting example and case study of how AMR safety supports productivity and profitability.

Stay Safe with AMRs

Workplace and employee safety is a collective responsibility. When everyone does their part to understand the safety standards, adheres to regulations, knows the risks, and ask questions about how safety can be strengthened – your people, products, productivity, and profits benefit.

Work with a robot manufacturer and safety experts who are invested in your employee safety. Contact us to learn how we make our AMRs safe and how we can help you in creating a safe work environment that includes AMRs.