Risk assessment

It All Comes Down to Risk Assessment

Oct. 8, 2020
Overcoming challenges in risk assessments is the first step toward safe machine operation.

There are many different methods for risk assessment, and just as many ways in which a risk assessment can fall short of its purpose. During the Robotic Industries Association’s International Robot Safety Conference (IRSC), Mike DeRosier, business development/safety manager for Advent Design Corporation, discussed some of the more obscure pain points to consider when performing risk assessments.

DeRosier noted the many different methodologies that exist for risk assessments, including RIA TR 15.306, ISO 12100, ANSI B11.0, HRN and custom methods. “When you look at all these methodologies, there is one wrong answer,” he said. “And that answer is not doing a risk assessment at all.”

More standards are beginning to call for risk assessment, and both robot OEMs and end-users are responsible for performing these together. Many companies get stuck in the method selection stage—DeRosier acknowledged that every option has its own benefits and shortfalls—but the most important thing is to pick one;. Adaptions can be made from there.

Educating the risk assessment team is crucial for mitigating potential machine safety hazards. The team needs to know standards and how those standards apply to a specific machine, machine guarding principles and other protective measure options. “Getting that education is what’s really going to help make your risk assessment successful,” DeRosier said.

Another challenge that companies face during the risk assessment stage is the fact that it’s subjective. DeRosier advised teams to communicate, but to be careful about getting stuck in hours-long discussions, which are frequently a result of a poorly defined risk parameter.

“One of the things I always recommend is sitting down and talking about the criteria of deciding—meaning defining severity” he said. “That makes it easier to go out to your machines and not get into a lot of debates over it.”

DeRosier said exposure potential and possibility of avoidance are common long discussion topics. This is because people’s interpretations of those differ. He attested that one of the biggest things most frequently missed on any methodology customers were using was understanding and documenting safety functions.

“At the core of it, you need to understand the safety functions of the machine,” DeRosier said. “And that doesn’t mean you need to understand every electrical schematic…That’s why you have a team.”

Talking to the people who understand different parts of the machine can pave the way to understanding how the entire machine operates. Defining a safe condition and how a machine enters into a safe condition are also important to understand how safety measures work into the individual functions of the machine.

Risk assessment teams also need to know how to document the risk assessment, perform a follow-up and accomplish the recommended changes. Risk assessments involve a lot of information, and teams need to know where and how to attain different types of information.

“Schematics are probably one of the biggest things that I often see missing when it comes to performing risk assessments,” DeRosier noted. Finding those needed documents (and possibly reverse engineering a machine to create new schematics) is a part of the risk assessment itself. Another challenge in risk assessment is lack of cooperation and communication. Oftentimes, there is a defensive wall between different teams of an organization.

“The more you can communicate and then educate on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, the next thing you know, you get more participation,” he said. After that, the defensive wall will come down and the risk assessment team can get the understanding it requires.

Performing a risk assessment isn’t inherently scary, but some fear the results of inadequate safety measures. That fear alone can keep companies from assessing risks. DeRosier highlighted two important things to address the fear factor: No one is infallible. and risk assessments are not one and done.

“Just because you do a risk assessment on a machine, doesn’t mean you never do a risk assessment ever again,” said DeRosier. Echoing a theme in an earlier IRSC session, risk assessments are meant to be fluid and ever-changing.

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