Tech tragedy | Worker crushed by malfunctioning robot arm was 'mistaken for vegetables'

Worker crushed by malfunctioning robot arm was 'mistaken for vegetables'

A factory worker was crushed to death by a robot that reportedly mistook him for a ‘box of vegetables’.

The worker, who was employed at a plant owned and operated by the Dongseong Export Agricultural Complex in South Korea, was working close to a robotic arm when the malfunction took place, and died as a result of his injuries.

The man, a robotics company worker, was inspecting the robot’s sensor operations at a distribution centre for agricultural produce in South Gyeongsang province.

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One source told The mirror that the robot reportedly malfunctioned and misidentified the workers as a box of vegetables, before attempting to grasp the man, crushing him in the process.

Worryingly, it seems that the company were aware that issues were being experienced at the plant, and tests were due to take place on 6 November to identify and fix any issues.

It’s believed that the firm was aware the robots were experiencing issues with their sensors, the technology that allowed them to discern objects.

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An official from the Dongseong Export Agricultural Complex, which owns the plant, has now called for improved safety systems following the tragic accident.

An investigation will now reportedly take place, looking into the safety procedures in place at the distribution centre. The assessment will concluded if there is a case for negligence by managers, as reported by the Yonhap news agency.

This isn’t the first time such an incident has taken place at a workplace in which humans and robots interact. In March of 2022, a similar incident took place in South Korea when a man in his 50s suffered serious injuries after getting trapped by a robot at a vehicle manufacturing plant.

Safety protocols paramount within dangerous workplaces

Whilst this particular incident took place in South Korea, in the UK companies have a legal duty of care over the health and wellbeing of employees.

According to the CIPD, all employers have legal responsibility under legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.

This is understood to include physical health and injury.

The HSWA covers all workplaces, and says that an employer must do everything reasonably practicable to provide a safe and healthy workplace. The HSWA is supplemented by many statutes, regulations, codes of practice and guidance.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 set out what employers are required to do to manage health and safety under HSWA. An employer must assess whether it has taken sufficient precautions to prevent damage and injury.

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