UK Vehicle Components Maker Fined in Guarding Case

A maintenance worker was seriously hurt in May 2008 when he entered a robotic work cell, even though the fully automated robot had not been switched to manual mode, because he wanted to watch its operating cycle. That had become common practice at the plant, according to HSE.

A serious injury that occurred when a maintenance worker entered a robotic work cell even though the fully automated robot had not been switched to manual mode has resulted in a $46,500 fine and $31,000 in costs against the employer, Dura Automotive Body and Glass Systems UK. It is the British unit of DURA Automotive Systems Inc., a leading supplier of components for automakers worldwide.

Britain's Health and Safety Executive, which prosecuted the case against the company, said Michael Brewer was trying May 6, 2008, to repair the robot, which was fully enclosed by a solid guard. So he entered the guarded area to see it while it was operating. He was struck in the throat, causing damage to his voicebox and the nerves on one side of his body, and cannot return to work, according to HSE's July 22 report.

The agency said its investigators found viewing the operating cycle from inside the guarded area had become a common practice at the company, which had not addressed that risk in its risk assessment. Since the injury, viewing panels have been installed in the guard so the robot can be seen from the outside, and supervision of its systems has been improved.

"Maintenance personnel often have to work within the guarded area of machinery, sometimes in the face of significant production pressure," said Edward Fryer, the HSE inspector in the case. "Safe access arrangements must be provided and these should be written into maintenance procedures and have full management commitment. If workers see their supervisors and managers violating procedures, as they did here, employees will feel that violations are condoned. There was a culture of violation in this factory, and it is very sad that it took an almost fatal accident for the company to identify this. Keeping the robot on the automatic cycle in these circumstances could very well have resulted in automatic death."

The plant's website indicates it manufactures door and structural components, glass systems, electric parking brakes, pedal systems, and exterior trim for Ford, Renault Nissan, Land Rover, GM, Honda, and Jaguar. DURA Automotive Systems Inc.'s headquarters are in Rochester Hills, Mich.

The safety bookstore of the Robotic Industries Association offers safety information about industrial robots. RIA reports automotive OEMs and component suppliers traditionally are the largest buyers of robots in North America, and this segment increased its orders in the first quarter of 2010. RIA estimates about 196,000 robots are used in U.S. factories and more than 1 million are used worldwide.

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