When the average person passes by a construction site, he or she expects to see scaffolding, cranes and backhoes, but it is becoming increasing more likely that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be whizzing around as well.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates there could be 1.6 million drones being used commercially by 2021. With the construction industry accounting for more than a quarter of that estimate, companies are becoming exposed to risks that were unimaginable just a few years ago. While the hazards are as new as the drones themselves, the best way to safeguard operations is to treat the aircraft with the same reverence as any other piece of traditional equipment found on the jobsite.
A decent amount of red tape comes with the adoption of drones in the workplace, so here is what construction owners and contractors can do to avoid putting their companies and crews at risk.
LEARN THE BASICS
Learning the fundamentals of drone usage and functionality can be a great first step to alleviate hazards. The average age of a construction worker is 42 years old, which means people onsite are touting a wealth of mechanical and problem-solving knowledge. But, being a burgeoning technology, workers might have little to no experience with drones.
Getting proper education is not as intimidating and painstaking as it used to be. Self-paced classes and online institutions are available to get a drone-flying career off the ground. Websites such as Lynda.com and Udemy.com have courses available on the basics of flying the machines, mastering aerial photography and live streaming from the devices.
Staffing a drone pilot is another great way to mitigate risks that come with updating a company’s construction practices. The FAA makes it easy to get a crew member certified to fly a drone commercially. The administration’s website offers a handbook study guide, test instructions and even sample test questions.
In addition to understanding the drone itself, be sure to get educated on the rules and regulations that govern UAV usage. The FAA has strict usage guidelines and has published a hefty book that answers nearly every question a person might have about the proper and legal uses of a commercial drone.
OSHA also has safety guidelines that drone operators and companies must follow. It is essential for an organization to educate itself on OSHA’s directives in order to remain compliant in the event of an audit. OSHA has mandates regarding protective wear, flying around people and even logging every flight that is taken. Following OSHA’s standards will not only make for a safer work environment, but it also prevents a company from getting caught up in red tape.
No matter how advanced equipment gets, it always needs to be properly prepared and maintained before, during and after use. Creating standard operating procedures will help normalize the preparation and use of drones. Having these procedures printed and available will make sure that anyone who uses UAVs knows the expected level of attention.
Unmanned aircraft have many moving parts that can wear down through normal usage. Doing proper visual inspections before and after each flight can help avoid putting the crew and project at risk. Create a checklist for the operator to run through to lower the risk of a mid-flight malfunction that can cause the device to crash.
A sample checklist includes:
- inspect frame and undercarriage;
- inspect movable surfaces and attachment points;
- inspect propulsion systems, propellers, rotors and fans;
- calibrate the compass;
- make sure the display panel is functioning properly;
- check ground support and landing systems;
- ensure the battery life is sufficient; and
- if possible, do a walkthrough of the flight path.
Tools such as Drone Logbook help keep construction owners and contractors out of hot water with regulatory commissions. The service guides companies and pilots through proper tracking, maintenance and logging of drone operations. Drone Logbook knows best practices as well as guidelines from OSHA and the FAA, and can act as a partner or advisor to ensure construction operations fly correctly.
EVALUATE INSURANCE POLICIES
Once a construction company has done what it can from a preparation standpoint, it’s prudent to reevaluate the insurance policy to be sure a project isn’t exposed to unforeseen risk. Not all insurance companies are adept at keeping up with evolving technology. Old policies can fail to address new exposures, and when insurance companies don’t assume the risk, it can fall back on the construction company. To avoid paying out of pocket because of a drone mishap, consider consulting an insurance agent who can evaluate a policy and advise whether coverage is adequate.
If a contractor outsources the drone operation or rents the machine, make sure to have non-owned aviation liability on a policy. This can protect against having to pay damages that come as a result of an incident involving the hired pilot.
It’s no secret that construction workers are a hands-on bunch who have an intricate knowledge of the tools of the trade. As tools are being updated and connected to the internet of things, the current state of construction can feel like a brave new world. Taking a step back and putting things in perspective will help owners put the safety of their people and the quality of the job at the forefront of the mission.