While more firms are beginning to utilize robots in the workplace, many are starting to evaluate the risks. It was publicized earlier this month that a worker in Germany was killed by a robot in a Volkswagen auto manufacturing plant.
The website of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration warns of the likely hazards implicated in advanced robotic systems in the workplace. This year, OSHA cited a Maine textile producer for revealing workers to carpet trimming robots, which had the ability to lengthen their arms further than a safe perimeter, potentially hitting the operators of the robot or even nearby employees.
Based on information provided by the federal workplace safety agency, studies which were performed in Sweden and Japan have posited that many robot-related injuries are the results of maintenance, programming, repair error or installation.
This has come as a considerable relief in some quarters, considering many of the about 1,900 respondents to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 “AI, Robotics and the Future of Jobs” survey were of the opinion that robotics and AI would saturate much of daily life by 2025.
Transportation and Logistics,
Healthcare, customer service, and manufacturing were discovered to be the industries more likely to be affected by the impact of the technology.
The Congressional Robotics Caucus Advisory Committee in 2013 also issued a “Roadmap for U.S. Robotics: From the Internet to Robotics,” which noted that key driver for robotics in the workplace was to attend to the aging population. The merits of using robots, however, based on the report, includes assisting with dirty, boring and hazardous tasks while also offering increased output and worker safety.
The report of the government looks at precise industries such as manufacturing especially the automotive industry, which had been using the robotic technology for a while, although it was thought that it would be speedily overtaken by the electronics sector. Extensively used in the field of medicine as well, robots have been tapped to carry out orthopedic, neurological and general surgery. In reality, the report also notes that the use of robots for surgery reduces complications by up to 80% and yields faster return to work and daily activities.
While the aim of robotics will be to augment safety and productivity, there will undoubtedly be an alteration in the type of claims that arise from their use in the workplace.
Gail Gottherer, a Connecticut-based partner at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider states that an injury caused by a robot at work would be handled very much the same way as an injury caused by a co-worker. The employee could file a worker’s comp claim, and the boss could ensue with a products accountability claim if there is an issue with the robot’s design.
With an increase in the use of robots in a variety of industries—from food service to airline ground transportation—developers will be required to be mindful of liability risks, authors of the report wrote. “Compensation of workers is meant to provide recompense for injured employees on a no-fault basis and in general pre-empt state law tort claim. Nevertheless, the law by and large allows tort claims filed against third parties that cause injuries in the workplace.”
The report outlines the conception that robots will also become more mainstream in daily life and not just be used in several industries but will also, citing that robots will supply elder care and household services.
Human activities would also be improved by exoskeletons that can be utilized in increasing mobility and muscle function, the report stated. Companies like Cyberdyne and Lockheed Martin are in plans to develop lightweight exoskeletons to augment a user’s strength and endurance.
The rate of third-party civil suits against robot manufacturers, designers and installers will likely be on the increase, the report stated. Product liability, negligence, and design defect will be the most probable actions filed.
While wearable robot technology has the capability of protecting against workplace injuries, the report’s writers expect that enlarged productivity could give rise to higher employer expectations on human workers and, in turn, result in an increased injury risk. There is also the prospect that the increased physical capability which is gained from using wearable robotics will convince workers to push themselves, potentially increasing the risk of injury.
“If it is not carefully monitored, the advantage of robotics could be lost as the injury rate keeps up to speed with these heightened expectations and anxiety,” the report’s authors wrote.
The employment firm’s report outlines other potential areas where a claim could arise, which includes an employers’ compulsion for notice of layoffs, severance pay, and retraining opportunities. Additionally, legal issues tend to arise involving to unionized workers and whether adding robots falls under a collective bargaining contract. Anti-discrimination issues could also arise with the use of robots during job interviews if the data obtained results in unintended analysis. Trade secret and issues with privacy could equally arise from the growing use of robots in the workplace, the report concludes.
University of Washington School of Law faculty member, Ryan Calo, says that it is vital that the law catches up in “how to deal efficiently with the advent of robotics.”
In a printed article in the June issue of the California Law Review, the assistant professor of law writes, “Robotics, for the first time, combines the promiscuity of data with the ability to do bodily harm. Robotic systems achieve tasks in ways that cannot be estimated in advance, and robots more and more blur the line connecting person and instrument.”