Where Should NIOSH Focus Its Robotics Research?

Work by NIOSH's new Center for Occupational Robotics Research certainly bears watching as the use of robotics rapidly increases in U.S. industries.

NIOSH posted a request for comments in mid-May on what types of research its new Center for Occupational Robotics Research should tackle. The agency asked for "input on priority gaps in knowledge on the safety and health of humans working with robotics technology, with an emphasis on worker safety and health research which is unlikely to be completed by other federal agencies, academia, and the private sector."

It's still possible to comment—visit www.regulations.gov and search for Docket CDC-2018-0046 and number NIOSH-313. If it isn't extended, the comment deadline is July 13.

NIOSH established the center in September 2017. Its notice requesting input said the center has nominally identified research needs it will address, and these are organized by the four research types conducted by NIOSH: basic/etiologic, intervention, translation, and surveillance. The agency wants feedback on possible refinements of these.

The notice and other materials posted to the docket will provide much more information about these than I can include here. They're interesting and important as the use of robotics rapidly increases in U.S. industries. The basic/etiologic research would identify human workers' risk factors and study hazardous situations outside normal operations, such as robot breakdowns. The intervention and translation research would involve developing and evaluating solutions to an OSH problem and developing strategies for bring research findings and theoretical knowledge to bear in the workplace. Surveillance would involve methods/techniques to monitor robot-related injuries and risk factors, as well as investigating fatalities, injuries, and near misses involving new robotics technologies.

As more and more workers share space with robots—the notice says U.S. sales of robots for industrial use were at all all-time high in 2016—this research certainly bears watching.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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