DOES NEW TECHNOLOGY LEAD TO EFFECTIVE SAFETY PRACTICES
The wide application of computerized systems has raised many questions on safety. There is limited data available on accidents involving robots since their application is not wide spread as yet.
Safety of robots:
There are four main types of risks associated with the utilisation of robots:
Risks associated with the hardware: Some robots are susceptible to environmental changes and malfunction or more erratically in response to changes in radio frequency, voltage and temperature variations, dust and humidity or presence of chemicals and vibration;
Risks associated with the software: Imperfections in the program sometimes cause the robot to behave in an unexpected manner;
Risks associated with poor level of maintenance: Robots are sophisticated and complex systems which require frequent and adequate maintenance, especially of hydraulics and electric systems. Infrequent or poor quality maintenance increases risks to human beings;
Risks of collision: Robots can harm humans or damage machinery or can cause injury through emissions which cause burns, electrocutions, radiation and shock. Faults in the balance or grip can cause serious injury if the load is shed. There is limited data available on accidents involving robots since their application is not wide spread as yet. The limited statistics however seem to indicate that robots are dangerous and can cause serious injuries.
Risks associated with computers
Computers are mainly applied in the office environment. Their wide spread utilisation has led to concerns over risks associated with Visual Display Units (VDUs). The following is a list of the areas where risks to health have been reported:
- Deterioration in vision, development of cataracts, eye diseases and epilepsy, eye strain;
- Risks due to emission of radiation;
- Skin rashes;
- Miscarriages and birth defects;
- Stress related problems,
- Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) causing tenosynovitis;
- Uncomfortable work environment
Maximizing economic benefits:
There are two major outcomes from the introduction of new technology for the purpose of maximizing economic benefits and eliminating health risks.
- That technological innovation such as robotics can cause high physical damage and major injuries, through erratic movement. What is alarming in this is that robots are susceptible to environmental conditions such as humidity, heat, dust, etc. This leads us to conclude that the risk will always be inherent and complete human isolation is the only answer;
- The use of VDUs does in the long run lead to some health conditions. Although the statistics collected so far are not conclusive, the reported cases seem to suggest that more ergonomic design and equipment design may minimise some of the risks.