“Are drones really safe?” At Propeller, we get this question a lot—especially from site managers who are the ones ensuring worker safety.
The safety benefits surveying your site more frequently far outweigh the risk of injury posed by modern commercial drones, so long as operators take some simple precautions. Drones are a tool, and like any tool, using them means you’ll need to comply with basic safety regulations. Overall, drones’ net safety impact is a positive one. They can go to hard-to-reach areas or hazardous situations, meaning you don’t have to endanger personnel to accomplish the same tasks.
Drones are safer than other surveying methods
Until recently, surveying has required physical present on a worksite and, sometimes, even to put “boots on the ground” in potentially dangerous areas.
Collecting data via drone removes the risks associated with having people enter mine and quarry pits, scramble over stockpiles, and walk around and/or under heavy equipment. This alone is significant, as the leading causes of private sector worker deaths are falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, and being caught in or between objects. These Fatal Four hazards were responsible for more than half (63.7%) of all construction worker deaths in 2016.
According to a common occupational health and safety management framework known as the Hierarchy of Controls, the single best way to control an employee’s exposure to an industrial hazard is to simply eliminate the hazard. Replacing a person on the ground with a drone in the air does just that. In the US alone, eliminating the Fatal Four would save the lives of 631 workers every year.
Advances in robotics mean drones themselves are becoming safer and safer. Modern UAVs are vastly lighter than their historical counterparts, and with features like collision avoidance and automatic return-to-base (in the event of a low battery or signal drop) are just some of the ways manufacturers are making commercial drones more autonomous and reliable, right out of the box.
The safety benefits of frequent surveys
The cost and time savings that come with drone surveying, as opposed to traditional methods, means sites are able to conduct surveys more frequently. More regular surveying doesn’t just improve inventory management—it also allows you to better identify and assess potential risk factors before making business and planning decisions.
Drone data software platforms like Propeller allow you to spot hazards faster, using powerful point-and-click tools that can instantly measure the height of a wall or windrow, or the slope of a stockpile, pit, or haul road. This level of in-depth analysis would not be possible or feasible when conducting a straightforward site visit, and many potential hazards are simply not visible from the ground.
Frequent drone surveying means it’s much more likely you’ll detect irregularities, fissures, and potential slips before they become a problem. One study found that using a drone and iPad to observe safety hazards was more accurate, and facilitated up to 100 times more observations, than a safety manager walking around a site.
Having up-to-date site data on hand at all times positions site managers to take immediate, effective action to protect workers in the face of potentially life-threatening hazards.
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