A robotic surgical system (10) includes a multiple degree of freedom manipulator arm (14) having a surgical tool (22). The arm is coupled to a controller (24) for controllably positioning the surgical tool within a three dimensional coordinate system. The system further includes a safety monitoring processor (38) for determining the position of the surgical tool in the three dimensional coordinate system relative to a volumetric model. The volumetric model may be represented as a constructive solid geometry (CSG) tree data structure. The system further includes an optical tracking camera system (28, 32) disposed for imaging a region of space that includes at least a portion of the manipulator arm. An output of the camera system is coupled to the processor (38) that processes the volumetric model for determining if the surgical tool is positioned outside of the volumetric model. The system further includes a strain gage (40) for detecting slippage in three dimensions between an immobilized tissue, such as bone, and a reference point (44). The system also includes multiple and redundant safety features for suspending a motion of the surgical tool to prevent the tool from operating outside of the predetermined volume of space.