Industrial Robot Kills Worker in South Korea

Industrial robot arm
Industrial robot arm loading a carton. | Image by Itsanan/Shutterstock

A fatal mishap involving an industrial robot that mistook an employee for a box occurred at a vegetable packaging plant in South Korea’s South Gyeongsang province on Wednesday.

An unidentified male victim in his 40s was conducting a routine inspection of a robot responsible for lifting boxes of bell peppers and placing them on a conveyor belt to form a pallet for export when a horrible accident occurred. The robot sensors incorrectly identified the man as a box and grabbed him, according to The Guardian.

The man’s face and chest sustained serious injuries as the robotic arm crushed him against the conveyor belt. Although he was swiftly taken to a nearby hospital, his injuries proved fatal.

Authorities are actively investigating the incident to determine if there were any technical defects or safety lapses with the machine. There is speculation by the police that the man’s proximity to the robot while holding a box may have inadvertently triggered the robot’s response, per Fox 4 KDFW.

South Korea is known as a global leader in industrial automation, with policies favoring robots to account for a diminished workforce amid persistently low birth rates.

In 2021, it bested the global average of robot density seven times over by clocking 1,000 industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees, according to the International Robotics Federation. Beyond the realm of industry, the country has also introduced robots to meet labor needs in catering, delivery services, healthcare, security, and more.

The United States has accelerated its own use of robots in the past years, with a 20% rise year over year in the third quarter of 2022, according to the Association for Advanced Automation. This put a total of 11,901 new units worth $626 million in operation.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, several automated facilities have popped up. For instance, Walmart recently opened a 1.5-million-square-foot fulfillment center in Lancaster capable of processing hundreds of thousands of online orders per day, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.

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