Robotics and Workplace Safety

human hand shaking a robot hand

We are in a period of rapid growth and advancements in robotics technology. Workplaces are increasingly using robots that enhance worker safety, health, and well-being. As robots are increasingly used in workplaces there are also safety concerns. Learn more about CDC’s role in robotics and workplace safety.

Robots are machines or automated technologies that can perform a series of actions to do everything from drive cars to perform surgery. Robots have existed in the workplace for years, but their presence on jobsites is increasing, as are their capabilities. Industrial robots are no longer confined to cages or cells. Today’s robots are designed to work alongside, move amongst, and be worn by human workers.

Taking on dangerous jobs

Robots can improve worker safety by doing work that is especially dangerous. They remove the worker from the hazard. Some examples include:

  • Robots can inspect offshore oil rigs while people remain safely on shore.
  • Drones might allow farmers to apply pesticide without exposure to chemicals.
  • Service robots may help healthcare workers safely lift patients eliminating debilitating musculoskeletal injuries.
  • A fleet of self-driving vehicles could reduce motor vehicle crashes among delivery workers.
Safety concerns

While robots have potential benefits for safety and productivity, there are also safety concerns. Working closely with robots such as in a warehouse or on a construction site, may pose different hazards. For example, a drone flying near a worker may also pose a threat to workers from distraction, however, there is little data on distraction and the potential for drones to cause a fall. Information about both the number and specific details of robot-related injuries to workers involving newer robotics technologies are not well-documented. This information is critical to inform policy changes and actions to improve worker safety and health.

CDC’s Center for Occupational Robotics Research

The Center for Occupational Robotics Research within CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is addressing the safety of today’s workers who use, wear, or work near robots. The Center focuses on:

  • Evaluating the potential for robotics technologies to prevent worker injuries and musculoskeletal disorders
  • Increasing understanding of human and robot interactions to ensure human worker safety
  • Improving the ability to identify and track injuries involving robotics technologies
  • Providing guidance on working safely with robotics technologies

The Center for Occupational Robotics Research works in partnership with academic researchers, trade associations, robotics manufacturers, employers using robotics technology, integrators who set-up robotic systems in workplaces, labor organizations, and other federal agencies. The Center addresses traditional robots and emerging technologies such as collaborative robots, mobile robots, powered exoskeletons, and remotely controlled or autonomous vehicles and drones.

More information
Page last reviewed: March 30, 2021