The Impact of Industrial Automation on Worker Safety

The Impact of Industrial Automation on Worker Safety
The Impact of Industrial Automation on Worker Safety

The value of human life is incalculable. Our industries and manufacturing facilities have not evolved to a stage where worker injuries are completely eliminated.
 
But we have advanced significantly in worker safety compared to the first few epochs of the industrial revolution. This was made possible by a gradual improvement in mechanization and process automation.

OSHA gives guidelines to ensure worker’s safety in a variety of industries.

Worker’s safety

The right to safety for workers in an organization is ensured by law in all developed countries. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the regulatory agency that has the mandate to ensure workplaces keep up to the safety standards.
 
According to OSHA, "occupational safety and health standard" means a standard which requires conditions, or the adoption or use of one or more practices, means, methods, operations or processes that are reasonably necessary or appropriate to provide safe or healthful employment and places of employment.
 
OSHA has four groups of standards: General Industry, Construction, Maritime and Agriculture. These different groups of standards cover the safety requirements for a diverse set of industries. General Industry is the OSHA standards group that covers a large number of workplaces and workers.
 
OSHA standards are enforced to provide employees with a workplace that is free of serious hazards to workers. It also ensures that employers identify and correct any safety and health problems identified in the workplace.


Machine failures endanger workers

Human errors are the major cause of occupational hazards in industries. Next in line is machine failures. Machines in modern industry are large and complex contraptions. Failure of such devices can have a significant impact on the vicinity of the machine. Any worker near the machine could be injured by failure.
 
It is important to avoid machine failures to ensure the safety of workers. Most machine failures occur during machine startup or shutdown. Following standard operating procedures for machine startup and shutdown significantly reduces the chances of machine failure.
 
OSHA recommends Lockout Tagout Procedure (LOTO) for selected critical machines in every factory. According to OSHA, “Compliance with the lockout/ Tagout standard prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year.” All factory facilities should adopt LOTO standards to enhance occupational safety in their premises.
 

Lockout Tagout procedure in eight steps.


Automation to enhance safe workplace

The third epoch of the industrial revolution, industry 3.0, brought about automation capability to the factory floor. This meant workers no longer have to be present alongside machines while they are in operation. Automated machines do all the heavy lifting in industrial processes.
 
Automated processes work according to the standard operating procedures without introducing any variability. This means machines always operate in optimal working conditions. A variety of such improvements brought about by automation prolongs the life of machines and reduces the chances of machine failure. This in turn generates a safe working environment for employees.
 
Maintenance automation and predictive maintenance are part of advancements in industry 4.0. Maintenance automation makes sure that all maintenance activities of a plant are executed seamlessly all the time. Predictive maintenance uses troves of past data to predict equipment failure. This prediction can be used to execute preventive maintenance activities and avoid machine failure.
 
U.S bureau of labor statistics regularly publishes data of incidences of occupational injuries and illnesses. It is clear as daylight that the industries that have a higher level of automation have fewer incidents of injuries. Whereas industries that heavily rely on manual labor have higher injury incidents.


Two sides of automation

Automation brings a range of benefits that directly or indirectly improve worker’s safety. A significant number of lives can be thus saved by eliminating the need for workers to be around machines.
 
On the other hand, industrial automation does eliminate some jobs. It is painful for the few who lose jobs due to automation.
 
But a much higher number of jobs are created elsewhere. Even with the downsides, industrial automation is a net positive on any metric, especially for worker’s safety.

About The Author


Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate and streamline their maintenance operations. He can be reached at bryan.christiansen@limblecmms.com.


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