Blog Post

2 Ways Safety And Efficiency Are Inextricably Combined

2 Reasons Safety And Efficiency Are Inextricably Combined

When you think about creating a safe environment for your employees, it’s easy to stay focused on policies and procedures. After all, it’s your duty to make sure your policies provide a solution for all potential areas where injury might occur.

For example, uniform policies that dictate specific shoes, clothing, and protective gear can prevent unnecessary slips, falls, burns, and cuts. However, even the best safety precautions can’t prevent workplace injuries in an inefficient environment.

Efficiency and safety are inextricably combined, and both need to be taken into account when considering overall safety, especially in an industrial workplace. If you’re working on improving your business processes, efficiency should be at the top of your list.

Here’s how efficiency and safety are connected:

1. An efficient robot is a safe robot

In recent years, the number of robots employed in industrial manufacturing has grown exponentially. Originally, robots were seen as a means to an end for increased productivity on automobile assembly lines (in the 1970s) and in warehouses. It makes sense – they don’t require pay raises, and they don’t get lethargic after lunch.

In one sense, robots keep workers safe from injury on the job since they can lift heavy objects and move them around with ease. However, most robots aren’t aware of their surroundings, and the robots themselves pose a significant danger to workers.

For instance, robots might move or drop chemicals and tools unexpectedly, or they might have exposed parts that can pose an electrical hazard to anyone nearby. Their surfaces might also be hot enough to burn human flesh.

The 2016 report titled Working Safely with Robot Workers: Recommendations for the New Workplace shares that back in 1987, line workers were at the greatest risk for injury, followed by maintenance workers and then programmers. Pinch-point injuries accounted for 56% of all robot-caused injuries, while 44% were impact injuries.

As of 2015, reports have stated that today, injuries caused by robots are rare, and fatalities and dismemberments are even rarer. Accident statistics in Germany report anywhere from three to fifteen robot-caused injuries annually from 2005-2012. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) claims robot-caused injuries are so rare, they combine them with other industrial accidents.

The robotics industry has been working hard to improve the efficiency of robotic technology, and this improvement has been much of the reason for reduced injuries.

Workplace injuries can be caused by both human and engineering errors. Loose connections, faulty electronics, programming bugs, and incorrect algorithms can cause injuries to humans. However, a prominent cause for injury occurs from “becoming so familiar with the robot’s redundant motions that personnel are too trusting in assuming the nature of these motions and place themselves in hazardous positions while programming or performing maintenance within the robot’s work zone.”

For this reason, it’s vital to maintain a robot at its peak efficiency, no matter what kind of job it’s doing.

One of the most common robots used in manufacturing is the industrial manipulator – a “machine with a rigid steel manipulator arm that allows complex pneumatic tilts and rotations, even when the product being moved is handled outside its center of mass.”

An efficient industrial manipulator will be able to maintain high stiffness for positioning accuracy when doing its job, but low stiffness when exposed to a collision force that a human cannot withstand.

This publication from the Journal of Mechanical Science and Technology details the results of various safety mechanisms in the manner described above. The researchers proposed a specific design that would enable absorption of the collision force under specific conditions. Through experiments, it was shown that positioning accuracy and collision safety were both improved by using their proposed design.

2. Efficient policies influence safe behavior

The only way a safety policy results in safety is when it’s being followed. The only way to get employees to follow your safety policy is to have an efficient way of demonstrating and enforcing that policy.

For instance, if a certain position working with metal requires all workers to wear gloves and goggles to protect their hands and eyes, the more efficiently you enforce that policy, the safer your employees will be.

Safety is a by-product of efficiency

Safety is just one result of efficiency in process and procedure. Accidents do happen, but maintaining the efficiency of the tools and machines your employees use contributes heavily to a safer work environment.

More Stories By Larry Alton

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.