The grim episode unfolded in the southern county of Goseong, where an industrial robot, part of a vegetable packaging facility, fatally crushed a worker with its robotic arms. Initial investigations by the police lean towards human error as the likely cause, emphasizing that issues with the machine itself may not be the primary factor.
While the victim’s identity remains undisclosed, it was revealed that he was an employee tasked with inspecting the industrial robot’s functionality. Having witnessed previous accidents involving industrial robots, South Korea grapples with the challenges of ensuring workplace safety amidst a surge in automation. Last year, a robot at a milk factory in Pyeongtaek fatally crushed a worker, and in March, another incident occurred at an auto parts factory in Gunsan.
The tragic event on Tuesday involved one of the two pick-and-place robots at the vegetable packaging plant, highlighting the commonality of such machines in South Korea’s agricultural communities. Despite concerns, Kang Jin-gi, the head of the investigations department at Gosong Police Station, clarified that the involved robot wasn’t an advanced, artificial intelligence-powered machine. Instead, it was a basic mechanism handling the task of picking up boxes and placing them on pallets.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, South Korea boasts the highest density of industrial robots globally, with 1,000 robots per 10,000 employees in 2021. This staggering statistic, more than three times the number in China, underscores the nation’s heavy reliance on automation, particularly in major manufacturing sectors like electronics and auto-making.
As investigations continue, authorities are scrutinizing both technical aspects, such as potential defects or safety issues in the robot, and the possibility of human error. The incident serves as a sobering reminder of the intricate balance needed to ensure the safe integration of automation in workplaces, urging a thorough evaluation of existing safety measures and technology standards in the ever-evolving landscape of industrial robotics.