A man was crushed to death by an industrial robot that confused him for a box of vegetables at a distribution center for agricultural produce in South Gyeongsang province, South Korea.
The incident occurred on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, when the man, a robotics company employee in his 40s, was inspecting the robot’s sensor operations. The robot, which was lifting boxes of bell peppers and placing them on a pallet, apparently malfunctioned and identified the man as a box. The robotic arm pushed the man’s upper body down against the conveyor belt, crushing his face and chest. He was transferred to the hospital but died later, according to the media reports.
This was the second serious accident involving an industrial robot in South Korea in a matter of months. In March, a man in his 50s suffered serious injuries after getting trapped by a robot while working at an automobile parts manufacturing plant. Industrial robots have been used for decades to carry out routine tasks from assembly to sorting goods. However, they also pose potential risks to human workers, especially during maintenance or malfunction. A study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine earlier this year said 41 people had been killed by industrial robots in the US between 1992 and 2017. The majority of the accidents took place during routine maintenance of the robots, rather than when they were carrying out their tasks.
The South Korean government has announced that it will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident and review the safety standards for industrial robots. The Dongseong Export Agricultural Complex, which owns the plant where the accident occurred, has expressed its condolences to the victim’s family and called for a “precise and safe” system to be established.