Home Resources Blog February 2015

Drones used to manage work at height

05 February 2015
Louis Wustemann summarises Dr DF Merchant’s advice on the benefits of using toy “drones” such as quadcopters to replace work at height in inspection work.

So called drones - more accurately known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) - were the must-have present in wealthy families last Christmas. But any indulgent parents tempted to borrow their child’s quadcopter and take it to work for a bit of aerial photography had better think again. Even “toy” models have a huge potential for workplace use. Remote inspection of buildings, quarry faces or wind turbines can reduce or eliminate the need for human access, and solve the “all places must be inspected before use” riddle in the Work at Height Regulations. Civil engineers can create daily photo maps of a project and survey unstable structures, police forces can monitor crowds at major venues and news teams can cover stories without paying for a helicopter.

But there are hefty restrictions on UAVs’ use for work purposes that you would need to know about before flying one to check the factory guttering. First you need a single flight permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is usually possible if the copter weighs less than seven kilogrammes to be flown as long as they remain at least 50 metres clear of any third party or property and 150 metres away from large crowds, but it will want to see your pilot’s licence with the application. If you are determined enough to spend the £1000 plus on an approved course to get a licence, there is still the hurdle of getting insurance to cover potential damage to property and third [parties if you crash the machine.

Then there is the Data Protection Act (DPA). The point of flying a UAV will be to transmit video or still pictures to the ground, which makes it basically a closed circuit TV system, so tightly governed by the DPA. The Information Commissioner’s office says operator must have a strong justification for using a UAV in any situation in which people can be identified, even if only by context. Its guidelines suggest pilots wear high visibility clothing and post signs telling the public where the cameras are pointing, or use social media to publish privacy notices in advance of any flight.

If all this sounds like a complete deterrent to using UAVs, it shouldn’t. You may not be able to fly your own copter for work purposes but there are specialist aerial survey and video companies with the licenced pilots and insurance, who can carry out remote inspections on your behalf, cutting out the need for expensive scaffolding or hazardous rope access. The only caveat is that since you are responsible for your contractors’ actions, it’s a good idea to check anyone flying a UAV for you has all the right documentation, including a CAA permission for the job.

An OHSAS 18001 health and safety management system is an effective tool for managing Work at Height and all other regulatory and legal health and safety requirements. The system can also help to improve an organisations health and safety performance overall, in terms of reduced incident levels, accidents, hazards, near misses and lost working days.

A longer version of this article appears in the current issue of Health and Safety at Work, www.healthandsafetyatwork.com

RS Components have also put together 'A Practical Guide for Your Business and Employees' where we explain the common potential hazards, safety measures that need to be put in place, and how these approaches can be applied to your business.