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OSHA drone use in inspections becomes more commonplace

August 26th, 2019 by Dakota Software Staff

OSHA drone use in inspections becomes more commonplace

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has started to incorporate drones — unmanned, remotely controlled aircrafts — into its on-site inspection process. This decision by the federal workplace health and safety watchdog shouldn't seem out of place, considering the increasing popularity of these vehicles in a wide range of business processes in recent years.

With drones offering a new perspective on facilities and their operations, allowing OSHA inspectors to see things that they couldn't easily view otherwise, it's not surprising that their use is increasing. While the introduction of these remotely controlled vehicles to an inspection is a voluntary concern for business owners, at least in the near future, it's important to understand use patterns and how they can influence the results of a site visit.

OSHA starts to use drones more frequently

"OSHA may gain the power to operate drones without business consent, pending an FAA request."

EHS Today reported that OSHA used drones with mounted cameras, which can provide a real-time look at a facility as well as recorded footage to review at a later time, at least nine times in 2018. The organization has already used these automated vehicles the same number of times in 2019, with four months left in the year. This indicates an increase, however gradual, in the implementation of drones during site visits by inspectors.

There are a few key reasons why drone use is currently limited. These circumstances could change in the future, leading to more widespread application:

  • Drones are only put to work when the business consents to their use at a facility or worksite, as BLR pointed out.
  • OSHA regional administrators make the decision as to whether their staff will establish a program that allows for the use of drones during inspections, with a focus on safety, consistency and adhering to relevant regulations.
  • Such vehicles are only used in situations where it's impossible for an inspector to access the location, or where a risk to their safety exists, law firm Cole Schotz said.

OSHA is in the process of seeking a Federal Aviation Administration waiver that would allow it to operate drones without the consent of property owners. Until this request is confirmed and put into practice, assuming the FAA agrees, business owners and EHS specialists should consider how agreeing to drone use at a facility could impact them. This may mean ensuring the drone won't interfere with any processes that occur in or below its path or discussing the request with legal counsel or top management, as EHS Today highlighted.

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