Repetitive tasks carry severe health risks for smaller manufacturers

Australian
small businesses come in many different shapes and types; however they almost
all share one very big challenge – safety in the workplace.

The
manufacturing industry has one of the highest injury rates in the country, with
21 serious injury claims per 1000 employees1.

Manufacturing
roles often consist of labour-intensive manual tasks. These are potentially
highly dangerous activities, yet the reality is that for many employees this
will constitute a large part of their working week. For example, machine
operators in small Australian factories will spend over 20 hours a week tending
machines, taking out finished parts and putting in new materials.

The
potential risk to employees and businesses in such an environment cannot be
overstated. Data from Safe Work Australia shows that muscular stress associated
with repetitive tasks is the number one cause of serious injuries, accounting
for 40 per cent of workplace compensation claims2.

Manufacturing
is the fourth largest employing sector in Australia and it is dominated by
small businesses, with 80 per cent of employing manufacturing businesses having
between 1 – 19 staff3.

Injury
related to repetitive tasks in these workplaces is a significant health and
economic problem, effecting thousands of lives and costing millions of dollars.

A new
generation of lightweight robots are now being introduced into Australia with
safety in smaller workspaces very much at the forefront.

Today’s state-of-the-art technology has
created an environment where workers and robots are able to function
productively side-by-side in close quarters. This is the modern manufacturing
workplace, where businesses can truly leverage the full potential of smart
robot technology.

Safety features such as using electrical
currents to detect an opposing force or obstruction to the robot’s line of
movement ensures that robots function safely and efficiently without causing
harm to workers. The robots can operate in a reduced mode when a human enters
the work-cell, and then resume to full speed when they leave again. Robots can
take over the monotonous and in many cases, potentially dangerous tasks, putting
workers out of harm’s way.

Importantly, the built-in safety measures
found in this new generation of industrial robots means that, subject to risk
assessment, additional investment in precautions such as safety shielding is
not required in most situations.

Without the need for safety shielding,
workers can work side-by-side the robots to share the load of work tasks
together. This also means there is no need to invest in installing safety
shielding and devices which needs constant maintenance. It also provides a more friendly work
environment.

Of course, the business benefit of industrial robotics
goes well beyond just safety.

Lightweight industrial robots can improve consistency
and boost reliability. Their deployment in production lines ultimately
increases productivity while maintaining high-quality output and safety
standards.

Being lightweight, they can be mounted on
the wall or shifted from one location to another, adding flexibility to the
manufacturing process; thereby saving money on valuable real estate costs. This
is a significant advantage for small manufacturers when they choose to expand,
move or grow their production line. Also, small batch and seasonal productions
are no longer stumbling blocks to businesses if the robots can be relocated
with ease without the need to overhaul the floor layout.

These combined benefits means the new generation of
affordable lightweight industrial robots can achieve payback in periods of just
over a year. Robots provide the assurance of businesses operating more
consistently at full capability and the provision of a safer workplace for employees.

Injury associated with repetitive tasks in smaller
manufacturing businesses is one of Australia’s greatest workplace concerns.
This new generation of industrial robots can play a critical role in protecting
employees and businesses.

1
Key Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia, Serious claims: incidence
rates by industry, 2011–12p

2 Key
Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia, Serious claims: percentage by
nature of injury/disease, 2011–12p

3
Manufacturing Workforce Issues Paper 2013