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Rise of the Machines – How Safe are Amazon’s Robots?

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Amazon is a company continually placing itself at the frontier of innovation, unafraid to implement new ideas to push their business further. Unequivocally, this strive for change comes with risk. Most obviously, there is risk in terms of money spent on research and implementation of change, but there is also risk that is less obvious, that is, the risk of jeopardising safety.

One area in which Amazon has pushed for innovation is its autonomous workforce sector. As of 2017, Amazon’s robot labour force is 45,000 strong, which is an increase of 50% from January 2016. Its robot army is quickly increasing in number, as well as picking up an ever-increasing and ever-expanding chunk of the work. Following such rapid expansion, however, officials and health and safety specialists have struggled to keep up with the pace.

The obvious concern following such drastic alteration to Amazon’s workforce is its safety. With so many new robots inward bound to Amazon’s warehouses at such a fast rate, there’s no prevailing protocol to guarantee that these machines are safe.

In the UK, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, lays out a recommendation that yearly equipment inspections in the workplace should be carried out. Additionally, according to the Construction and Design Management Regulations 2015, these annual examinations should be overseen by somebody ‘competent’.

This poses a conundrum for Amazon, whose machines are so specialised – often purpose built – that the only professionals deemed qualified enough to inspect and assess the safety of the machines and their inner workings are from Amazon itself. It is critical that these people exist to ensure the safety of the robot fleet, but from a legal and logical standpoint, it is imperative to have impartial safety checks carried out by a third party.

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