The Rise and Risks of Autonomous Robots in the Workplace

The Rise and Risks of Autonomous Robots in the Workplace

There’s never been a better time to integrate autonomous robots into the workplace. Andrew Zarkowsky shares why – and how to do it safely.
Andrew Zarkowsky
Andrew Zarkowsky, Head of AI Underwriting, The Hartford
The introduction of autonomous robots and artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to change the way businesses operate. For example, warehouses might reduce the risk of workplace injuries by having robots complete higher hazard tasks such as carrying heavy materials or entering workspaces that would require humans to wear protective gear to guard against noise or toxic chemicals. However, as technology continues to rapidly evolve, it is important to understand both the risks and the benefits of introducing autonomous robots into your operations.
“The opportunities are vast,” says Andrew Zarkowsky, global technology industry practice lead at The Hartford. “Businesses might be able to change their entire process when robots are part of the equation,” Zarkowsky says.

The Rise of Autonomous Robots

Autonomous robots are intelligent machines that can perform tasks such as finding and picking items in a distribution center or sanding fiberglass at a construction site. But to do the job right, robots need sensors and visual data to make decisions and operate autonomously, and sometimes they need human intervention to keep them on track.
Despite these limitations, robots give workers the ability to delegate mundane and hazardous tasks to machines, allowing humans to focus on the more engaging and valuable parts of their job. In 2024, nearly 21% of warehouses use some form of robotics, up from 15% in 2018.1
Autonomous robots are being used across a variety of industries, including:
  • Logistics: Robots can transport orders across warehouses and shipping facilities.
  • E-Commerce: Robots can support order fulfillment, returns handling, raw materials transport and inventory management.
  • Manufacturing: Robots outfitted with appropriate gear can assist in the production process.
  • Data Centers: Autonomous robots can be used to transport material that is sensitive or an essential part of operations.
  • Health Care: Autonomous robots can move supplies and medicine, as well as support cleaning and sanitizing routines.
  • Biotech: Robots can perform repetitive monitoring tasks or aid with waste removal from the production line.
A robot’s biggest asset is its lack of human limitations. “Robots are not constrained by heat or chemicals,” Zarkowsky says. Robots can be used to perform tasks that are potentially dangerous to humans. For example, robots with sensors can venture into a high-hazard area to check for radioactivity or diminished air quality.
Companies are also using robots for overnight security. “Robots can drive around the parking lot of a vacant building, for instance, to show a presence of security, record events and hopefully be able to prevent a bad actor from causing an issue,” Zarkowsky says.
“A robot delivering pizza on a college campus is what’s getting bigger press, but there are very meaningful tasks robots are taking on in the workforce, like delivering bedding for an on-call nurse in a hospital,” Zarkowsky adds. “Instead of sending the nurse away from the patient for a minute or two, they can call the robot to bring the material to them.”

Assess Work Zones Before Using Autonomous Robots

Robots, however, are not infallible. In addition to potentially breaking down, autonomous robots can perform the wrong action if not programmed correctly. Robots have been known to go off course and end up in the wrong section of a warehouse or get stuck on a loading dock. And if the robots are interacting with humans, the risks increase.
Companies considering the use of robots should assess the work environment and every individual task a robot would complete. A controlled environment, such as a warehouse, entails less risk than a robot functioning outside on a public road.
When using autonomous robots, a company should evaluate its risk based on the environment and concurrently evaluate insurance coverage – particularly general liability, workers’ compensation, property, professional liability (also called Technology Errors & Omissions or Tech E&O) and cyber liability.
“There is a risk correlation to the environment and the end use. It’s important that the users of the robot understands their liability and the availability of appropriate insurance coverage,” Zarkowsky says.
“They should spend a lot of time thinking about risk transfer and understanding the contract wording in the SOW (Statement of Work) who is responsible for what. Make sure there’s a very clear picture of expectations and warranties and how the insurance will provide or exclude coverage. If something goes wrong, the insurer will evaluate whether it was caused by the manufacturer’s design, or if the company using the robots designed the constraints incorrectly.”

Reduce Your Risk With Robots in the Workplace

First, do not let risk deter you. Waiting to use robots can be its own risk, hindering a company’s productivity and innovation, Zarkowsky says.
“Companies should start to do something. The ramp up time from not having robotics in the workplace to having them is significant. It might take years to use the robot efficiently.”
With that insight, here are some steps to consider:
  • Start small: Deploy robots in low hazard and controlled environments to minimize risk and maximize learnings. Ensure sensors detect what is needed and partner the robot with a human to refine your process before it is deployed on its own.
  • Contain the environment: Work in well controlled and mapped locations. Ultimately, if you want your robot to support humans in a warehouse, train it first in a contained space with simple directions. As it achieves goals, level up its duties.
  • Educate on misuse of robots: Risks emerge when a robot isn’t used the way it is designed. To reduce potential problems, educate human counterparts on correct usage. For example, if a robot is designed to move at 2 to 3 mph, but a user forces it to 4 or 5 mph, that could incur a major risk.
When initiating a robot program, consider hiring someone internally to oversee the initiative or bring on a consultant who deeply understands what’s involved. “It will take a true combination of understanding your business and process, and understanding AI and robotics,” Zarkowsky says. “Just having one or the other won’t be sufficient.”

1 Industrial Robots – 2023, Interact Analysis, accessed January 2024.

La información proporcionada en estos materiales brinda información general y de asesoría. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) be an appropriate legal or business practice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations or operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Readers seeking to resolve specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns related to the information provided in these materials should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. All information and representations herein are as of March 2024.
Links from this site to an external site, unaffiliated with The Hartford, may be provided for users' convenience only. The Hartford no controla o revisa estos sitios. La provisiòn de cualquiera de estos enlaces no implica la aprobación o asociación de The Hartford con dichos sitios. The Hartford no es responsable y no ejerce ningún tipo de representación o garantía relacionadas con los contenidos, integridad, precisión o seguridad de cualquier material publicado en dichos sitios. Si usted decide ingresar a sitios que no pertenezcan a The Hartford, lo hace bajo su propia responsabilidad.
The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., (NYSE: HIG) operates through its subsidiaries, including the underwriting company Hartford Fire insurance Company, under the brand name, The Hartford,® and is headquartered in Hartford, CT. For additional details, please read The Hartford’s legal notice at
The Hartford Staff
The Hartford Staff
Our editorial team spans writers, researchers, product specialists and subject matter experts. We cover the intersection where best practices and business insights meet.