Police in South Korea reported on Thursday that a worker was killed by an industrial robot at a vegetable packaging facility. They are currently looking into the possibility that the robot was either malfunctioning or had been designed incorrectly.
Preliminary evidence from authorities suggests that human error was the main cause of the incident, rather than any issues with the machine. However, this event has sparked worries among the public about the safety of industrial robots and the potential complacency they may create for workers in a country where reliance on automation is growing.
According to authorities in Goseong, a county in the southern region, a man sustained fatal injuries to his head and chest on Tuesday evening. He was reportedly grabbed and pushed into a conveyor belt by the robotic arms of a machine.
The man’s identity was not disclosed by the police; however, they confirmed that he worked for a company that installs industrial robots and was tasked with inspecting the machine’s functionality at the plant.
In recent years, South Korea has experienced additional incidents involving industrial robots. In March, a worker at an auto parts factory in Gunsan was severely injured by a manufacturing robot while inspecting it. Similarly, in Pyeongtaek last year, a worker at a milk factory was fatally crushed by a robot located near a conveyor belt.
The police stated that one of the two pick-and-place robots at the packaging facility, responsible for exporting bell peppers and other vegetables to Asian countries, caused a fatal accident on Tuesday. These types of machines are frequently utilized in South Korea’s agricultural regions, where there is a shortage of workers due to aging and declining population.
Kang Jin-gi, the head of the investigations department at Gosong Police Station, explained that the machine in question was not a sophisticated, artificial intelligence-based robot. Instead, it was a simple machine designed to pick up boxes and place them on pallets. He also stated that the police are collaborating with other agencies to determine if there were any technical malfunctions or safety concerns with the machine.
A different member of the police force, who prefers to remain anonymous as they are not allowed to speak to the media, mentioned that they are considering the potential of human mistake. The robot’s sensors are programmed to detect boxes, and footage from the security camera showed that the individual was near the robot while holding a box, which may have caused the robot to react.
He stated that it was evident that the robot did not mistake a human for a box, as the machine was not very advanced.
In 2021, the International Federation of Robotics reported that South Korea had the highest number of industrial robots per 10,000 employees at 1,000, which is more than three times the amount in China. These robots are primarily utilized in major manufacturing industries like electronics and automobile production.