Risk Insider: Stacie Graham

The Looming Manufacturing Skills Shortfall Part 2: Cobots to the Rescue?

By: | May 1, 2018 • 2 min read
Stacie Graham is SVP and General Manager of National Insurance Casualty & Middle Market – Central Division for Liberty Mutual Insurance. She leads underwriting and service teams for large and midsize accounts. You can reach her at [email protected]

Part 1 of this series covered the ongoing talent shortage in manufacturing and how apprenticeships can start building the next generation of workers.
Collaborative robots, or cobots, are another way for manufacturers to mitigate the shortfall of talent.

Cobots are meant to work alongside human workers rather than replace them. They perform the repetitive, ergonomically-challenging tasks that humans want to avoid, and they are quickly gaining popularity on a broad scale. According to market analysts at Barclays, the cobot market could grow to $3 billion by 2020.

Their benefit is three-pronged: Taking workers off repetitive fine motor tasks can reduce the risk of soft-tissue injuries; employees are free to take on higher-level thinking tasks, like quality control or programming, which increases job satisfaction and the likelihood of retaining those employees; and cobots boost the efficiency of each individual worker, which reduces the total number of employees needed on the floor and makes the talent gap easier to bridge.

According to market analysts at Barclays, the cobot market could grow to $3 billion by 2020.

Machines working alongside employees in any capacity will present their own unique risks. Manufacturing risk managers should consider the following five areas of exposures when implementing cobots on the factory floor:

  1. Safety: Incorrect or incomplete programming or a malfunction could cause a cobot to make unexpected movements, which poses a hazard to those working in close proximity. Workers also have to be aware of the cobots’ space and trained in how to operate its external safety mechanisms. Using cobots correctly should reduce workers’ exposures to more dangerous tasks, but misuse could place them directly in harm’s way. Have you conducted a risk assessment and updated safety training to make sure employees know how to work side-by-side with robots safely and effectively?
  2. Product Liability: With a place on the production line, cobots play an integral role in product quality. A malfunction or programming flaw can introduce inconsistencies into the final outcome and increase product liability exposure. Does your quality control protocol consider cobot programming?
  3. Contract Language: If your cobot does injure an employee or tarnish a product, who should be held responsible: the robot manufacturer, the programmer, or your facility? If the cobot breaks down due to a defect, who will foot the bill for repair or replacement? Consult with legal counsel to put contracts in place that assign liability appropriately.
  4. Contingency Planning: As manufacturers grow more dependent on robots, there’s an increased need for contingency planning. In the event of equipment breakdown, how quickly can you repair or procure a new cobot? Identifying backup suppliers and service vendors is critical to keep operations running smoothly and minimize business interruption.
  5. Insurance Coverage: New equipment and subsequent changes to normal operational procedures call for an overview of insurance policies. Do you have appropriate coverage limits on property, general liability, equipment breakdown, business interruption, and operational replacement costs?

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]