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Workplace Safety: The Hidden Benefit of Industrial Automation

The typical conversations about industrial automation – whether excited over its potential ROI or afraid it will automate workers out of jobs – are missing one important benefit. Automation can improve workplace safety.

Every year, workplace injuries cost companies billions. These losses add up in the form of

  • Lost productivity
  • Paid time off
  • Increased insurance premiums
  • Regulatory fines
  • Lawsuits

The Liberty Mutual Insurance Workplace Safety Index estimates injuries from overexertion and repetitive stress alone cost the U.S. economy more than $16 billion a year.

Preventing overexertion injuries

Material handling workers are especially vulnerable to traumas caused by lifting, pushing, and carrying loads and by repetitive motions like sorting and packaging. Workers are more likely to take time off work for these stress injuries than for any other type of workplace trauma.

Industrial automation improves workplace safety by dramatically reducing the risk of overexertion. Machines take over the most stressful tasks, like moving heavy loads or picking and sorting small objects. Workers overseeing the machines exercise their ingenuity and decision-making skills while protecting their joints and muscles from heavy stress.

Preventing collision injuries

Automation also protects workers from collision and compression injuries. This includes workers being struck by vehicles like forklifts, crashing into objects or equipment, and being caught between moving or stationary objects.

To improve workplace safety, businesses can implement technologies like sensor-equipped automated equipment that stops when an obstacle is detected. Preventing these types of injuries could save more than $6 billion a year.

How Industrial Automation Improves Workplace Safety

Industrial automation can improve workplace safety by reducing or eliminating the risks associated with overexertion, vehicle accidents, and worker fatigue.

Machines handle the heavy lifting

In many industrial workplaces, the ability to regularly lift 50 pounds or more is a job requirement. Over the years, employers have tried to reduce the risk of injury by requiring workers to wear support garments and training them in ergonomic lifting techniques.

Even with all these safeguards in place, lifting and moving heavy loads over and over again day after day can add up to long-term back pain – sometimes permanently.

Some of the first automated workplace safety measures were designed to protect workers from these backbreaking tasks. Lifts and cranes come in a variety of sizes and applications, appropriate whether you need to move loads around a workstation or across a facility. 

While automation solutions are a logical fit for many higher-velocity high-quantity applications, most workplaces regardless of throughput would immediately benefit from integrating the following two non-automation ergonomic solutions. (1) Pallet Positioners automatically maintain pallets at a comfortable working height as layers of boxes are added or removed. (2) Crane-mounted operator-controlled vacuum lifters can lift and position a variety of heavy items with ease.

AGVs are automation all-stars

It only takes a moment of distraction for a person to wander into the path of a forklift, or for a driver to overlook the pedestrian in their path. Automated guided vehicles – or AGVs – are never distracted.

AGVs are driverless vehicles controlled by computer. They follow predictable, predetermined paths. Their multiple redundant sensor arrays trigger them to slow down, stop, or change course when they detect an obstacle in their way – whether that obstacle is a distracted pedestrian or a stray pallet.

Unlike a human driver, an AGV can’t miscalculate a turn or tip over from taking a corner too fast. They can travel safely through hazards like extreme temperatures, noxious fumes, or corrosive materials, eliminating the need to expose people to these risks.

AGVs can also lift and carry heavy loads, further reducing the risk of ergonomic injuries.

Robots prevent worker fatigue

According to the National Safety Council, fatigue is a major contributor to workplace injuries. Workers exhausted by hours of repetitive manual labor are easily distracted and more likely to bypass safety protocols just to get the job done.

Businesses can do more than offer coffee to keep their employees alert. They can improve workplace safety by automating the more tedious parts of material handling, such as:

  • Walking long aisles in search of products
  • Repeatedly lifting and pushing heavy loads
  • Performing mind-numbing tasks like picking and kitting small parts

Employees who are assisted by collaborative robots are safer, more productive, and report higher job satisfaction.

In industries like warehousing, where turnover is high and the labor pool is always tight, any investment that keeps workers healthy and happy is a long-term cost-saving strategy for the business.

 

How Industrial Automation Affects the Bottom Line

Protecting your workers’ safety and well-being is obviously the right thing to do. It’s also a strategic way to boost your bottom line.

Workplace safety measures improve productivity

According to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, injuries in the workplace cost U.S. businesses as a whole more than $1 billion per week.

Implementing automation to improve workplace safety can prevent many of these injuries. That keeps workers on the job, productivity high, and insurance premiums low.

Automation fosters high-value activity

Freed from repetitive manual tasks, people can concentrate on higher value work. These high-value tasks might include tackling creative challenges or finding innovative ways to improve productivity.

Industrial automation improves job satisfaction

Fears of automation taking over jobs have gotten a lot of press, but a 2022 survey found the majority of industrial workers view a company’s investment in automation as an investment in worker well-being.

Industrial automation improves worker safety and offers the chance to perform more intellectually stimulating tasks. Combined, this leads to lower turnover, reducing the costs associated with hiring and training new workers.

 

How You Can Add Industrial Automation to Your Workplace

Many smaller businesses view automation as a luxury they can’t afford. But one of the greatest advantages of modern technology is that it’s modular.

You don’t need to implement automation across the board to improve workplace safety. By focusing on your most critical needs first, you can reap the benefits of automation with a smaller investment.

A modular approach allows you to monitor how automation impacts worker safety and your bottom line. As you begin to see ROI in one place, you can expand automation technology to another area of your facility.

Identifying where to start

Unfortunately, most businesses have a hard time seeing the hazards right in front of them. Workers often face the same safety risks every day. Over time, both workers and their employers become complacent and stop recognizing the danger – until someone gets hurt.

An audit of your operation will uncover these safety concerns. It can also identify the areas where small changes can yield big impacts. With this information, you can invest in the projects with the quickest potential ROI.

Before investing in an automation solution, get an audit from an expert industrial automation consultant. This step ensures the solution you choose is the right one for your business.

The ISS design team has consulted on hundreds of projects across multiple industries. Our consultants have a deep understanding of the available technologies on the market and access to thousands of vendors.

Use the form below to request your consultation and take the first step to using automation to improve your workplace’s safety.

About the Author



Tom Compton

President

Tom Compton is the President of Industrial Shelving Systems (ISS) and retains an active sales role with both ISS and ISS Material Handling. Tom is a seasoned professional who has been working in the industry for over 10 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Mizzou, where he honed his expertise in designing and analyzing mechanical systems. Tom has continued to show his dedication and excellence in the field by earning a 6 Sigma Green Belt. When Tom is not working, he spends his time with his family and friends. A devoted father of three children, he also is an avid sports fan and enjoys playing hockey and golf in his free time. He is also passionate about NHRA racing and follows the sport closely.

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