Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Here at Safety Fabrications we’re always on the lookout for news stories that impact on the construction industry, especially those that involve new technology.   We’ve published blog posts in the past on the benefits of using new technology so that we can keep our readers fully informed of any new trends within the industry.  Now we’ve come across another way that cutting edge technology can be used to make the workplace safer.

There have recently been calls to use toy drones such as quadcopters to replace work at height activities in inspection work.  The drones, which are more accurately known as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have been appearing in the skies across the UK on a pretty regular basis in the past couple of years.  They’ve become a must have present at Christmas for the “man who has everything” and owners can be seen showing off their “boy’s toys” at venues across the land on weekends and bank holidays. 

Even the “toy” models have a significant potential for use in the workplace = they can be used to carry out remote inspection of buildings, quarries or wind turbines and could reduce or even eradicate the need for human inspection with all the health and safety issues involved with working at height in such a way.  Civil engineers will be able to create daily photo maps of a project and remotely survey any unstable structures without putting any employees at risk.

However, there are restrictions on using UAVs for work purposes so it’s best for would-be users to familiarise themselves with these rules before launching a drone to check out the roof of a building they are about to work on.  In order to use a UAV you’ll need a single permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which will usually be granted if the UAV weighs less than seven kilos.  You’ll need to make sure that the UAV remains at least 50 metres clear of any third party property and at least 150 metres away from any large crowd.  However, the CAA will need to see your pilot’s licence when you make the application for permission to fly.  The approved course to obtain your pilot’s licence will probably cost over £1,000 but you’ll also need to make sure that you have suitable insurance that covers potential damage to property and third parties in the event of a crash.

Once you’ve obtained the pilot’s licence and permission to fly, you’ll also need to take into account the Data Protection Act (DPA).  A UAV that transmits video or still pictures to the ground is classed as a closed circuit TV system and these are covered by the DPA.  The operator will need to demonstrate that they have a strong justification for using a UAV in any situation where people can be identified.  Guidelines recommend that pilots wear high visibility clothing and post signs which tell people where the cameras are pointing or publish social media privacy notices in advance of any planned flight.

While this sounds like quite a lot of trouble to go to avoid making manual inspections that will involve working at height, there is an easier way forward.  Nowadays there are specialist aerial survey and video companies that provide the licenced pilots and the necessary insurance.  These companies can carry out remote inspections on your behalf which will eliminate the need for costly scaffolding or hazardous rope access.  It looks as if the construction industry will soon be employing remote pilots for inspection jobs, making the industry safer for those who work in it.