Workplace Safety

Injury Risk Can Remain Even with Automation

Automation may help companies prevent common injuries, but it’s not time to ease diligence on safety.
By: | April 11, 2018 • 3 min read
Topics: Safety | Workers' Comp

Automation increasingly seems to be taking over in workplaces around the world. A 2017 report from PwC suggests that as many as 40 percent of U.S. workers could be replaced by robots by 2030. Many employers see automation as a solution for preventing various common workplace injuries.

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But replacing people with machines is not a fail-safe or a one-size-fits-all solution, nor does it necessarily alleviate the risk of injuries.

While robots have been proven to be effective in certain areas, such as lifting heavy objects or engaging in extremely repetitive work, Scott Smith, director, ergonomics global risk consulting, Aon, said a thorough cost-benefit analysis needs to be conducted first.

“You need to take a look at the analytics,” he said. Companies often fail to conduct a detailed analysis with all stakeholders — including risk management, operations, health and safety, human resources if a union is involved, etc. — and evaluate all data from both a risk and loss perspective before considering a change, Smith added.

In some situations, automation could be a boon. For instance, a semi-automated system in a warehouse that allows an individual to use a robot to load boxes into trucks may not only potentially increase the speed at which the job is completed but may also significantly reduce workers’ comp claims for back and shoulder injuries.

Scott Smith, director of ergonomics global risk consulting, Aon

But Smith said he’s seen companies embrace the idea of automation too eagerly, believing they will transfer their workers’ comp risks to a machine. Smith relayed a situation where a plant replaced a person who loaded aluminum heads onto an assembly line with a $400,000 robot. However, an individual was still required to load the robot.

Smith said the homework needs to be done. Look at the number and expense of particular workers’ comp injuries technology is intended to save. Review how the economy and unemployment could affect future staffing. Find out if the automation would provide financial incentive.

Another consideration is how the technology will interact with individuals. David Langham, deputy chief judge, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims, said anyone who doesn’t see the potential for robots potentially causing damage to humans is “a little bit naïve.”

“What I’ve seen in the industry is machines built to be safe and humans who make poor decisions around those machines, resulting in injury,” he said. “There’s no such thing as the absolute right technological solution. Every solution you engage has the potential to create another problem.”

“There’s no such thing as the absolute right technological solution. Every solution you engage has the potential to create another problem.” — David Langham, deputy chief judge, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims

Smith said he has seen pinch and crush injuries occur when workers mix with robots. Pinch injuries can often occur during maintenance, because during the design and installation, the ergonomics of the design rarely take into account maintenance, he said, and those responsible for repairing the machine typically need to work in very cramped, awkward spaces.

Crush injuries are more likely to occur for robots with a bigger footprint that may need 360 degrees of freedom for movement, Smith noted, and often a physical barrier or a light curtain will be needed to prevent injury.

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Langham noted that another potential safety issue with automation is when repairs are outsourced to another company or an independent contractor who is unfamiliar with the company’s equipment and set-up. Another issue is when companies cut back on time spent in safety meetings and awareness because of the addition of robots.

“I think there are going to be a lot of companies that are going to think robots decrease demand for those meetings, and I think that will very probably lead to injuries,” he said. “Employees need to be reminded.” &

Angela Childers is a Chicago-based writer specializing in health care and business management. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

As a professor of business, Jack Hampton knows firsthand the positive impact education has on risk managers as they tackle growing risks.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Ellen Thrower, president (retired), The College of Insurance, introduced me to the importance of insurance as a component of risk management. Further, she encouraged me to explore strategic and operational risk as foundation topics shaping the role of the modern risk manager.

Chris Mandel, former president of RIMS and Risk Manager of the Year, introduced me to the emerging area of enterprise risk management. He helped me recognize the need to align hazard, strategic, operational and financial risk into a single framework. He gave me the perspective of ERM in a high-tech environment, using USAA as a model program that later won an excellence award for innovation.

Bob Morrell, founder and former CEO of Riskonnect, showed me how technology could be applied to solving serious risk management and governance problems. He created a platform that made some of my ideas practical and extended them into a highly-successful enterprise that served risk and governance management needs of major corporations.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

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From a background in corporate finance and commercial banking, I accepted the position of provost of The College of Insurance. Recognizing my limited prior knowledge in the field, I became a student of insurance and risk management leading to authorship of books on hazard and financial risk. This led to industry consulting, as well as to the development of graduate-level courses and concentrations in MBA programs.

R&I: What was your first job?

The provost position was the first job I had in the industry, after serving as dean of the Seton Hall University School of Business and founding The Princeton Consulting Group. Earlier positions were in business development with Marine Transport Lines, consulting in commercial banking and college professorships.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Creating a risk management concentration in the MBA program at Saint Peter’s, co-founding the Russian Risk Management Society (RUSRISK), and writing “Fundamentals of Enterprise Risk Management” and the “AMA Handbook of Financial Risk Management.”

A few years ago, I expanded into risk management in higher education. From 2017 into 2018, Rowman and Littlefield published my four books that address risks facing colleges and universities, professors, students and parents.

Jack Hampton, Professor of Business, St. Peter’s University

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

The Godfather. I see it as a story of managing risk, even as the behavior of its leading characters create risk for others.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Jameson’s Irish whiskey. Mixed with a little ice, it is a serious rival for Johnny Walker Gold scotch and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Mount Etna, Taormina, and Agrigento, Sicily. I actually supervised an MBA program in Siracusa and learned about risk from a new perspective.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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Army Airborne training and jumping out of an airplane. Fortunately, I never had to do it in combat even though I served in Vietnam.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

George C. Marshall, one of the most decorated military leaders in American history, architect of the economic recovery program for Europe after World War II, and recipient of the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. For Marshall, it was not just about winning the war. It was also about winning the peace.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Sharing lessons with colleagues and students by writing, publishing and teaching. A professor with a knowledge of risk management does not only share lessons. The professor is also a student when MBA candidates talk about the risks they manage every day.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

Sensitizing for-profit, nonprofit and governmental agencies to the exposures and complexities facing their organizations. Sometimes we focus too much on strategies that sound good but do not withstand closer examination. Risk managers help organizations make better decisions.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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Developing executive training programs to help risk managers assume C-suite positions in organizations. Insurance may be a good place to start but so is an MBA degree. The Risk and Insurance Management Society recognizes the importance of a wide range of risk knowledge. Colleges and universities need to catch up with RIMS.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber risk and its impact on hazard, operational and financial strategies. A terrorist can take down a building. A cyber-criminal can take down much more.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

My family members think I’m a professor. They do not seem to be too interested in my views on risk management.




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]