What Happens When the Robots Lose Power?

OSHA wants employer input for possible updates to lockout/tagout standard

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​The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) might update a safety rule known as the lockout/tagout standard, which regulates the control of hazardous energy while machines and equipment are being fixed—including robotic systems that need a continuous supply of power. The agency is requesting comments from employers and other interested parties by Aug 18.

Under the lockout/tagout standard, all sources of energy must be controlled using an energy-isolating device while equipment maintenance is performed. Such devices physically prevent energy from being transmitted or released and include manually operated electrical circuit breakers and disconnect switches.

Push buttons, selector switches and other control-circuit devices are not considered energy-isolating devices under the standard. However, OSHA wants to know how technological advances have improved the safety of control-circuit devices since the standard was published in 1989, according to an agency statement.

We've rounded up the latest news on this topic. Here are SHRM Online resources and articles from other trusted sources.

Employer Experiences

OSHA officials have asked employers to comment on how they are using control-circuit devices, what types of circuitry and safety procedures they use, and what challenges they face that limit the use of such devices. The agency's goal is to determine under what conditions control-circuit devices could be used safely.

(OSHA)

Accommodating Robotic Systems

Recent advancements in robotic systems have created machines that "think" while they work. These systems can move independently and adapt to changing circumstances in the workplace. Complying with OSHA's lockout/tagout standard and deenergizing robotic systems can cause logistical problems for employers, but employers who fail to comply may face hefty fines or be asked to stop using their robotic systems. So OSHA is asking for information to help the agency decide whether and how to update the standard to accommodate the use of robotics.

(Jackson Lewis)

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Determine Regulatory Requirements for Safety]

Robotics Expected to Shape the Future of Work

The partnership between humans and machines will shape the workforce in the next industrial revolution. And there are some industries in which the merging of technology and human skills is more likely to result in completely new jobs, such as biotech, security, virtual reality and the environment.

(SHRM Online)

Frequent OSHA Citations

Lockout/tagout violations were listed as the fifth on OSHA's 2018 list of the top 10 most frequently cited safety violations during worksite inspections. OSHA encourages employers to review the list each year so they can take steps to find and fix hazards.

(OSHA)

State Workplace Safety Standards May Exceed OSHA's Rules

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act covers most private employers and their workers. However, OSHA allows states to develop their own workplace health and safety plans, as long as those plans are "at least as effective" as the federal program. Thus, multistate employers may have to comply with more than one occupational safety and health standard, which means they must pay attention to nuances in regulations and administrative procedures.

(SHRM Online)

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