Special Topics in Safety Management

As Thoughts Turn to the Future of Work, CDC Awards Grant for Robotics Safety Study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded $1.5 million in funding over 3 years for research into reducing workers’ exposures to hazards through the development and use of collaborative robots, or co-robots, to be performed by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the CDC announced.

Robots and safety

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The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) fund studies of co-robots in the workplace through the latter’s National Robotics Initiative 2.0. Co-robots work alongside humans or other robots and can help improve worker safety, according to the CDC.

“This important research will help guide the development and use of co-robots that can help minimize health and safety risks to workers,” NIOSH Director John Howard, MD, said in a statement.

“The future of work includes a workplace where robots work in tandem with, or are even worn by, human workers,” according to Howard.

For example, remote-controlled nursing robots have the potential to reduce workload in healthcare facilities, along with the risk of worker infection, especially in quarantine and intensive care environments. Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute plan to develop a more intuitive interface to make it easier for nurses to operate robots from a distance and are researching best practices for integrating robots into nursing education, according to the CDC.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are looking into applications for manufacturing and plan to develop a personalized wearable robot worn on the lower body and investigate its effectiveness in sensing the wearer’s physical effort and responding accordingly using soft-wearable electronics.

Program Updates

NIOSH also issued updates on its ongoing research programs into safety in construction and health care and social assistance.

The construction program provided data and input to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in support of the agency’s efforts to update the  construction industry standard for respirable crystalline silica. NIOSH’s construction program also shared construction health and safety research with key industry stakeholders at annual construction safety and health expos, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG and the International Builders’ Show.

NIOSH developed a COVID-19 guidance for the construction industry and published several journal articles and reports on falls, trenching, silica, ergonomics, exoskeletons, and the implications of artificial intelligence for the future of work. The construction program also developed infographics for a national campaign to prevent construction falls and promotional material highlighting struck-by hazards.

The healthcare and social assistance program performed a data analysis on veterinarian and veterinary student suicides. Poisoning was the most common method and pentobarbital the most commonly used drug. Pentobarbital is commonly used in veterinary practices for euthanasia of animals.

The healthcare and social assistance program also published an analysis in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report detailing the characteristics of healthcare personnel with COVID-19. The program also is supporting the CDC’s COVID-19 outbreak response. Program staff plan to develop and test an easy-to-use ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) disinfection system that can be used on full face piece respirators (FFRs) between uses during disease pandemics.