Why put a human at risk when a drone can do the job?
Drone adoption is soaring, and it’s no wonder. Drones can do in hours or minutes what humans might need days to accomplish. But beyond productivity, drones are also increasing safety on worksites by eliminating the need to put workers at risk. Here are three common hazards that drones are helping to mitigate.
Stockpiles can get beyond big — as big as a high-rise. Their irregular shape makes accurately measuring their volume difficult. Traditionally, measuring stockpiles has meant sending a worker to the pile to eyeball it, perhaps with a yardstick in hand, or to count bucket loads. Workers have been known to climb stockpiles. One United Rentals customer began contracting with United Rentals for drone volumetric analysis after a worker died in a stockpile collapse.
Drones can provide highly accurate volumetric measurements, eliminating the need for human involvement and minimizing risk.
Drones can go places that pose a significant fall risk for humans. Take roofs, for example. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roofers have the fourth-highest fatal work injury rate of all civilian occupations. Falls from roofs account for one-third of all fall-related fatalities in construction. Drone rooftop inspections can eliminate the need for a human on a roof. Companies such as United Rentals can perform, in about 30 minutes or less, a rooftop inspection that once took multiple workers multiple days.
Similarly, drone bridge inspections can keep inspectors off bridges. Inspecting bridges manually generally takes hours. It often involves being suspended from significant height, and may involve exposure to traffic. Drones can safely get up-close to bridge elements and take highly detailed still and thermal images, without the danger to humans or the expense of shutting down the bridge. The Minnesota DOT is experimenting with collision tolerant drones to inspect confined bridge spaces, such as between beams.
Confined space hazards
Working in confined spaces poses any number of hazards, from exposure to toxic chemicals and atmospheres to getting stuck. Yet in the construction, oil, gas and power industries, workers often need to enter confined spaces such as tanks, pipes, stacks and boilers for inspections and repairs.
Drones for confined space inspections are taking off. Special drones with features such as collision-tolerant caging, LED lighting and thermal-imaging cameras are making these formerly impossible drone inspections possible.
When United Rentals sends a drone into a boiler for an inspection, it eliminates the need to set up scaffolding and send a worker inside, which can save weeks of labor and dramatically reduce boiler downtime. Drones are also being used to monitor and inspect oil and gas pipelines, manholes, and other confined spaces.
Drones are one of myriad ways technology is making construction and industrial operations safer. As drone technology continues to advance, industry will likely find new ways to use UAVs for tasks that currently put humans in harm’s way.
Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.