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Occupational risk prevention in the field of collaborative robotics

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Collaborative robotics concerns robots capable of interacting with human beings as part of industrial processes. The human being and the robot thus share the same work area to carry out all or part of their tasks, whereas a “conventional” industrial robot is characterized by its physical remoteness and the fact that there is no collaboration with a human being.

Although the stated objectives and expectations of the market players may diverge, it turns out that the identified risks are largely the same. And yet, societal issues involving collaborative robotics and increased interaction with human beings are apparently not neglected.

In France, the Ministry of Labour has produced a guide to risk prevention in the production, installation and use of collaborative robotics. It contains information on the standards applied, together with an example of a concrete case. The National Institute for Research and Safety (INRS) also published, in October 2017, a scientific report reviewing progress and challenges facing risk prevention on physical assistance robots.

In Germany, the DGUV’s efforts have focused on a set of studies published in 2014, for the purpose of providing robot-human contact thresholds in order to limit the associated risk factor. Moreover, these thresholds are those used in the standards governing collaborative robotics. The DGUV has also published a guide, the latest revision of which dates from 2011, in order to provide a list of requirements for secure establishment of the work station in a collaborative environment.

Lastly, in the Netherlands, TNO published in 2016 a general report which discusses all the currently identified issues surrounding risk prevention and collaborative robotics.

The note produced by EUROGIP extracts from these various documents a set of identified risks. For example, there are conventional risks, in particular MSDs and those related to robot/human contacts. But the insurers and various scientific research works highlight specific risks such as psychosocial risks related to the rejection of robots as a collaborator at work, or else regulatory risks concerning technological development (cybersecurity, etc.).

A number of risk prevention measures are also described. The documents discuss and explain risk analysis to various degrees. This is the basic preventive approach recommended by all the insurers, based on the existing standards, even though there is at present no standardized and widespread tool for use by industry to perform a complete analysis. The proposed solutions concern both work organization in general (work rate management, etc.) and specific aspects such as the trajectory to be programmed for the robot capable of collaboration, or again the characteristics (strength, speed, etc.) of such a robot.

The current development of collaborative robotics also includes thinking aimed at isolating and responding to occupational risk factors. Although this approach is still in its early stages, the note by EUROGIP underlines a range of interesting works which form an already solid base in this area.

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