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Robotic Injuries and Workers’ Compensation

Many companies in North Carolina and Virginia are using robotics for manufacturing, automation, warehousing, and other businesses. Sadly, robots are replacing many workers entirely. Human workers who work with robots and other robotic hardware and software are at risk for many different types of workplace injuries.

A recent case of an Amazon worker being trapped by robotics while workers illustrates the dangers. While this particular worker was lucky enough to avoid injury, many other workers aren’t and won’t be so lucky. Newsweek reported that a man who said he was employed by Amazon posted a TikTok video about “how the robotic shelves inside the warehouse automatically moved, trapping him inside.” The video received, as of the date of the Newsweek video, nearly 1 million views.

According to the Newsweek story, Amazon bought a robotics company in 2012 called Kiva Systems – including their robotic shelving technology. By 2022, the purchases have led to the “creation of more than 200,000 mobile robots inside the company’s warehouses.” The robots have the ability to read barcodes that provide directions for shelving and delivering the company’s products to employees.

The video shows the worker blocked by a yellow warehouse shelf – preventing him from walking around the shelf on both sides. The employee said – “Sometimes this will happen.” “I got one pod here, can’t get out, and then I’ve got another pod.” The video then shows the “robotic shelf rolling its way into the aisle the employee was trapped in.”

The employee continued the video by showing that “there were no spaces between the different shelves and he was unable to find a way out of the aisle.” During the filming, another robotic shelf trapped him further. The worker said it took him about 15 minutes to get around the shelving. In short, the robotic shelve created a moving maze that blocked his path continually.

Another Amazon robotics accident, as reported by a New Jersey TV station, stated that numerous workers were harmed when an automated machine “punctured a can of bear repellant at a New Jersey Amazon warehouse,” released dangerous toxic fumes. 24 workers had to be sent to local hospitals. Fortunately, all workers were released within 24 hours – though one was in critical condition for a while.

Why robotic work is dangerous?

There are many dangers involved with working with robots or robotic equipment. The Amazon illustration is just one example. The worker could have easily been struck by a moving shelve. If the worker had been carrying an object and wanted to make sure the object didn’t break, the worker could easily injure his back.

Another danger with robotic work is that more robots mean less humans. While robots may save workers from some back-breaking work, fewer humans often mean the human workers who stay at the job have less help from other workers when they need it. The human workers are often required to do more tasks instead of fewer tasks.

There is the constant danger that the software or hardware could malfunction. Malfunctions can include robots that don’t finish their tasks or continue working when they should stop. Malfunctions may cause electrical failures which can cause fires. Malfunctions may cause a worker to be struck or pinned by a piece of robotic machinery or equipment.

Another danger is that the use of robots and robotic equipment means that workers need to take off from work to learn how to use or manage the new technology. The time off from work may mean workers who understand the technology will have to work harder until the other workers come up to speed. When the technology is completely new – and all workers – need to learn how to use the new technology – the workers may be pressured to work twice as hard to make up for the lost time.

Workers may suffer injuries while trying to repair a broken robot – especially if the robot hasn’t completely powered down.

Are there any advantages to injured workers who are hurt in robotic workplaces?

One positive side of robotic technology is that robots often record their actions. So, if an employer disputes whether there was a workplace accident, the software recordings could be used to verify that a workplace accident did indeed occur.

Workers who are injured by defective robotic equipment may have the right to file a product liability, otherwise known as a “third party” claim in addition to filing a workers’ compensation claim.

In a North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation claim, workers are generally entitled to compensation, if there was a workplace accident, for:

  • All their reasonable medical expenses.
  • Temporary disability benefits for the time they work, are unable to work, at the rate of 2/3rds of their average weekly wage, potentially for up to 500 weeks;
  • Permanent partial disability benefits for certain specific injuries if the worker qualifies.

Several agencies, including the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) are involved in reviewing the safety of workers who work with robotic equipment.

OSHA states that

“Studies indicate that many robot accidents occur during non-routine operating conditions, such as programming, maintenance, testing, setup, or adjustment. During many of these operations, the worker may temporarily be within the robot’s working envelope where unintended operations could result in injuries.”

Currently, there are no OSHA standards for the robotics industry. OSHA does have references to help recognize dangers in the robotics industry including, OSHA Technical Manual (OTM) Chapter – Industrial Robot Systems and Industrial Robot System Safety. OSHA Directive TED 01-00-015, (September 1, 2021).

Other organizations and agencies involved with robotics safety include:

  • The Robotics Industry Association (RIA)
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH)

 

At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our Virginia and North Carolina workers compensation lawyer has helped thousands of injured and ill workers obtain the compensation they deserve. We handle all types of workplace injuries. We represent employees who are injured due to any type of workplace accident including injuries caused by robotic equipment. If you were injured at work or a loved one died while working, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295 or use my online contact form to make an appointment. We have the experience and resources to help injured workers obtain justice.

Attorney Joe Miller, Esq. uses remote services for clients who don’t want to meet in person. To use our remote services, please look at our New Electronic Case Review.

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