Robot Killer: US Manufacturing Facility Suffers Worker Death As Machine Dismisses Safety Protocol


Those of us wary of a future run by robots just got their worst nightmares confirmed. Okay, we’re a few years away from autonomous two-legged machines wandering around our high streets carrying out tasks for their controllers and sitting at our dining tables joining in with conversation but that hasn’t stopped simpler computer-controlled machines from operating within our production facilities.

And now we have proof that, despite a number of control measures, robotic machinery has an issue deciphering between the role it has been assigned to carry out and the ability to complete that task safely. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a woman was crushed to death by a robotic arm that, when working on a production line, encroached on the worker’s workstation.

Wanda Holbrook worked at a manufacturing facility when a robotic arm, which should not ordinarily have been able to move into a member of staff’s workspace, crushed the woman, killing her instantly.

Computer-controlled machines should enhance safety but is that REALLY the case?

Now her husband has brought a wrongful death complaint against five robotic firms responsible for installing and testing the machinery. I want to make sure nothing like this happens to another family. We would feel terrible if we didn’t do anything and then another family had to go through something similar to this. If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. If it’s preventable, I want it to be prevented, he said.

He claims Lincoln Electric, Flex-N-Gate, Prodomax, FANUC and Nachi all played a role in his wife’s death and quite rightly wants to see protective measures brought into place. His lawsuit states that Wanda was working in either section 140 or 150 within the ‘100’ cell, when a robot from section 130 took Wanda by surprise, entering the section she was working in.

Upon entering the section, the robot hit and crushed Wanda’s head between a hitch assembly it was attempting to place in the fixture of section 140, and a hitch assembly that was already in the fixture. The machine proceeded to load a trailer attachment assembly part onto her head, crushing her skull.

Her death “devastated her husband, three children, grandchildren and dozens of co-workers who filled the back four pews at her funeral,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

It’s a cautionary tale. Technology is going to play an increasing role in our lives. We can only hope that safety measures improve before these robotics are making their homes in ours.

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