The paper focuses on design and control of a new anthropomorphic robot arm enabling the torque measurement in each joint to ensure safety while performing tasks of physical interaction with human and environment. When the contact of the arm with an object occurs, local impedance algorithm provides active compliance of corresponding robot arm joint. Thus, the whole structure of the manipulator can safely interact with unstructured environment. A novel variable control strategy was elaborated to increase the robot functionality and to achieve human-like dynamics of interaction. In the paper, we detail the design procedure of 4-DOF robot arm and optical torque sensors. The experimental results of variable joint impedance control show that proposed approach not only provides safe interaction of entire structure of robot arm with a person, but also improves the effectiveness of contact task performance, enables thus to contact with environment in a delicate manner.