How Do People Get Hurt on the Job Site?
Fatalities and serious injuries caused by falls are all too common in industry. Clearly, working at height can be dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible. With the introduction of the commercial drone, we’re finally seeing an opportunity to get a good look at difficult-to-reach spots without someone climbing up there and putting themselves at risk. Here are just a few specific use cases for drones that help keep workers on the ground and out of harm’s way.
Inspecting the roof
The roof is one of the most difficult and dangerous areas of a building to inspect. Access is often difficult, sometimes requiring ladders or scaffolding, which are not always level, increasing the risk of a fall. Sometimes skylights are unintentionally left exposed or are made of weak material, causing an unlucky worker to fall through. Areas of a roof may be too damaged to support the weight of a person. Strong winds or adverse weather conditions can also lead to a fall.
Arranging adequate fall protection that anticipates these dangers involves painstaking and costly measures which many operators would rather avoid if possible. Drone technology makes inspection cheaper, easier, and safer – which has the added bonus of allowing you to do it more often. By remotely identifying problem areas, in real-time and in a matter of minutes, inspectors can focus their work and limit on-the-roof time to only those areas of concern. Rather than searching for a needle in a haystack, you have a map to tell you right where to look. This ultimately reduces inspection time.
Commercial drones use high-quality cameras to record and/or stream the resulting video to someone on the ground. In this manner, trained inspectors can achieve the same results as they would if inspecting an object directly, whilst removing the need to put themselves in a dangerous situation. This capability alone makes drones an attractive proposition for construction and engineering firms, insurers, and regulators who each need to perform frequent and thorough checks to ensure that proper protocols are being followed, and that structures are safe and constructed according to standards. In addition, the video recorded by a drone’s camera is viewable to anyone in the chain of command, increasing the transparency of such operations.
Climbing Up the Walls
Besides roofing inspections, there are other ways that UAVs can improve the overall safety of your operations. Here are several use cases which are already seeing time in the field.
• Safer Scaffolding: Ensuring that scaffolding and other safety measures are safe with a visual inspection is vital to protecting the safety of workers and insulating the company from liability. With a drone, it’s simple to check that all boards are in place, inspect fastenings, and do so without sending an employee into a precarious situation. Of course, drones can sometimes eliminate the need for scaffolding entirely, such as when inspecting the walls of a building.
• Flashing: Flashing requires inspection to avoid water damage, and in the event of a leak, to find and isolate the source of the problem. Inspecting flashing with a drone is not only cheaper and safer, but also helps preserve the value of your building. Water damage can lead to mould, structural damage, and other costly repairs.
• Windows: Windows on tall buildings are difficult to inspect, especially when they don’t open from the inside. A drone can fly close to windows without the need to put a human worker on a ladder, scissor lift, or suspended scaffold. With this close vantage, it’s simple to check for cracks in insulation, weather-stripping, or damage to the glass itself.
• Unstable or Crumbling Surfaces: In a recent case, a UAV was used to create a 3D model of a dilapidated dam that was deemed too dangerous for workers to walk on. Using drone technology, the surveyors were able to prevent risk to their employees, acquire aerial data they couldn’t have attained with a boat, and enjoy substantial savings when compared to hiring a helicopter.
• Volumetric Stockpile Assessment: This quickly growing use case employs drones to calculate the quantity of gravel, stone, sand, rock salt, topsoil, sugar beets, or really anything in a large pile. Safety incidents involving surveyors climbing with heavy equipment across these huge piles, which can give way underfoot, are not uncommon. The results of a well-run drone aerial data operation are highly accurate and reliable, which gives little reason to continue putting workers at risk.
In all of these cases, drones represent a means of conducting inspections in a safer and less expensive fashion, making the process more efficient and allowing for more frequent inspections. This makes structures safer and saves the company money in the long run by heading off potential issues before they become significant problems.
The Tool of the Future
We’ve talked a lot about how drones can replace a set of human eyes, but they can do much more. Drones can be fitted with a wide array of sensors that can see far beyond what the naked eye allows. When a building is close to completion, a drone with a thermal sensor can fly overhead and identify cold and hot spots, areas that might need additional HVAC infrastructure or could pose risks of electrical fire.
A drone can inspect large solar power installations for seal integrity, storm and wildlife damage and dust cover whilst a drone with thermal-imaging capabilities can also assess the efficiency of a solar panel array, showing any areas that are behaving abnormally.
Drones also offer huge advantages in the booming field of wind energy – the fastest-growing source of energy in the world – which is poised to become a major factor in the world’s energy economy. Drones are already being used to inspect wind turbines, sometimes 600 feet tall, allowing workers to minimize the time they spend climbing the structures and reducing the rate of accidents. In addition, the improved data they provide will help better maintain the safety and efficient functioning of the turbine. Navigant Research stated in a recent study that “[Blade] Deterioration can cause reduced energy production in early stages and catastrophic and costly blade collapse if left unnoticed. This is driving a brisk business in wind turbine blade inspections, a role that has traditionally been accomplished from the ground with simple visual inspections or more complicated and risky rope or platform access. A new approach using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, is rapidly muscling in as a middle option.”
Cell towers, on a smaller scale, present similar challenges that drones can help address. Companies are already using UAV technology to inspect cell phone towers, deploying a workforce of mobile operators capable of systematically inspecting thousands of towers annually, which greatly reduces the time people spend working at height.
Weighing the Alternative
As we’ve shown, unmanned aviation can mitigate some of most severe risks that workers face on the job site. Below is a simple comparison. Consider the time and cost implications.
Ladders, roof ladders, scaffolding, scissor lifts, cherry pickers, abseiling, safety nets, soft landing bags, safety harnesses, fall arrestors, safety training, checking and monitoring the above.
Commercial drone. Instantly available data. Feet on the ground. Huge savings.
Our aircraft are regularly maintained and tested to ensure safety during every flight.
Every operation is subject to detailed planning consisting of safety checks, location assessments and risk assessments both prior to and during the mission .
Potential clients should be aware of unqualified, uninsured persons offering aerial services.
It is illegal to operate outside of the operating limits set out in the Air Navigation Order.
Always ask for proof of insurance and CAA ‘Permission for Commercial Operations’.
See it from the sky