A new generation of autonomous, collaborative robots (COBOTs) designed to work alongside humans is rising in Australian workplaces. In this new environment, however, the work, health and safety (WHS) risks resulting from the interaction between workers and COBOTs was not fully understood.
The Centre for Work Health and Safety (CWHS) wanted to understand how COBOTS could be safely introduced and operated in workplaces for diverse users, from the waitstaff to the factory floor. CWHS engaged CfID and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to design a WHS framework for decision making and practice.
In partnership with UTS, CfID conducted research in phases to improve the knowledge of WHS risks in this shared work environment, and to develop guidance on the safe introduction and ongoing use of COBOTs.
The project team first completed a systematic review of academic literature, industry reports and standards. The research identified design principles of safe human co-bot workplaces, as well as WHS risks and harms. Further research, involving semi-structured interviews and observations was then conducted, to understand attitudes and perspectives on how safe design can be supported in diverse settings. Using these findings, CfID then facilitated an interactive co-design session to build on the previous phases to ensure the guidelines were inclusive.
The guidelines were drafted, including frameworks and strategies for safe human-robot collaboration in the workplace, and best practice principles. The guidelines were then observed in workplace settings and in simulations to review the projects outcomes and evaluate key aspects.
The project was a collaborative effort betweenCfID, UTS, and the commissioning organisation, CWHS. The CWHS now has a set of good practice guidelines for safely working with collaborative robots. The approach ensured the guidelines, in this unique and new area, were tested and proven before hitting the market. Instead of the government being seen as overly regulating, the guidelines provided information the market was looking for through user feedback, findings, user issues, and recommendations.
By participating in the inclusive design process, CWHS is now equipped to accelerate inclusion and demonstrate its value within the business and to the customers it supports. CWHS staff now have the skills, techniques, and tools to use across any future designs, and the knowledge to share it with teams across the organisation.