Robotic welding stations make up a significant part of the industry, often to replace the growing shortage of skilled welders. The American Welding Society predicts a shortage of 290,000 welding professionals by 2020. Welding automation can make up for those missing professionals, but it presents an entirely new set of safety problems.
How do you protect yourself while working around robotic welding stations? Here are a few tips to keep you safe on the job.
Know When You’re Most at Risk
Various welders have different stop times, safe distances and safeguard response times. Even if you’ve worked with automatic welding equipment before, you will need to learn the new safety parameters of your welder.
Most welding accidents don’t happen when the welder is in active use. Instead, programming, testing and maintenance are more likely to cause an accident. If you are interacting directly with the welder, you’re at a much higher risk for injury.
Eye wounds are one of the most common injuries caused by welding accidents. Even if the welder shouldn’t activate — because it’s undergoing routine maintenance, or it’s being programmed and is offline — your employer should provide you with proper eye protection.
OSHA publishes safety regulations that tell you if your gloves, glasses and mask are up to standards of the type of welder you’re working with.
Even if you’re not working directly with the welder, the proper OSHA requires proper safety gear.
Know Your Welder’s Safety Features
A robotic welder has customizable safety features that account for specific safety risks posed, such as temperature and brightness. Standard safeguards include mechanical barriers, light curtains, perimeter guards and laser scanners.
Mechanical barriers close when the welder is in use and trigger an emergency stop if opened. Light curtains and laser guards work on a similar principle. These safety features form a barrier of light that, if broken or interrupted, will trigger an emergency shutdown. The machine will not restart until workers clear the blockage.
Another safety option is pressure-sensitive mats placed in areas where a worker might walk around the robotic welder. If someone steps on one of these mats, it completes a circuit, and the welder shuts down. When the employee walks away, the machine will start back up.
While various welding applications may need different safety features, these precautions are not optional. Requiring an employee to operate a welder without safety features is a violation of OSHA regulations.
Know When to Perform Maintenance
As with any robot, regular maintenance is essential to keep the machine working smoothly and safely.
As a welder, you know the kinds of temperatures and forces these robots are working with. A catastrophic failure due to lack of maintenance — like a welding arm lashing out and striking outside its work zone — can easily cause injuries or fatalities.
Each robotic welder should have a maintenance schedule that workers strictly adhered to. Before and after each work shift, visually inspect the welder. A robotic welder, and the work area around it, needs to be kept clean. Welders produce vast amounts of dust and debris which can damage rubber seals or create a fire hazard if saturated with solvents.
Know If Your Workplace Is a Safe One
Safety is never the responsibility of a single employee. Instead, workplace safety depends on training, the proper equipment and a workplace culture that encourages safe practices. Make it a point to create a culture of safety in your workplace, and encourage your coworkers to do the same.
Your workplace should prepare for the worst-case scenario. Workers should be trained to respond to common welding injuries and equipment failure. Even in the face of catastrophic failure, first aid training can save workers from serious injury. OSHA regulations also require a workplace first aid kit.
Creating a culture of workplace safety has been shown to make workplaces safer and reduce on-the-job injuries — regardless of the industry you’re working in.
Due to the growing shortage of skilled welders, automated and robotic alternatives will continue to have a place in the welding industry. We can’t prevent this push toward automation, but we can determine whether or not they will present a danger in the workplace.
Make sure that your robotic welders are well maintained. Keep all safety equipment functioning, and take the time to cultivate a culture of safety within the workplace. These tips will help you stay safe while allowing you to work side-by-side with robotic welders to shape the industry for years to come.
Article by —
Megan Ray Nichols
Freelance Science Writer