NIOSH Center to Research Occupational Robotics


Technology advancements are introducing more robots to mainstream workplaces. However, few studies have assessed the benefits and risks of having/using robots in the workplace.

To address that need, NIOSH has launched the Center for Occupational Robotics Research, where researchers will analyze potential benefits and risks of robotic workers and develop safety guidelines for safe interactions with robots

“Not only is this a new field for safety and health professionals, [but] little government guidance or policy exists regarding the safe integration of robots into the workplace,” says NIOSH Director John Howard. He believes the center will “provide the scientific leadership needed to ensure that human workers are protected.”

While the number of robots in the workplace is increasing, the use of robots in the workplace is not new. However, advancements in sensing technology have caused conventional robots that work in isolation to become smarter robots that can work collaboratively with other robots as well as humans.

Between 1992 and 2015, NIOSH researchers found that 61 robot-related workplace deaths were reported. While that number may seem low, Dawn Castillo, director of NIOSH’s Division of Safety Research and manager of the Center for Occupational Robotics Research, believes the number of fatalities caused by robots “will increase over time because of the growing number of industrial robots being used . . . and from the introduction of collaborative and co-existing robots, powered exoskeletons and autonomous vehicles into the work environment.”

NIOSH will partner with academia and government representatives to develop risk profiles of robotic workplaces, identify research needs and conduct research. Eventually NIOSH hopes to support the development and adoption of consensus safety standards.

The center’s first partnership is with OSHA and the Robotics Industry Association. Learn more about this NIOSH initiative here


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