Applications of robotics in safety include unmanned aerial or terrestrial vehicles, commonly known as drones, which are aircraft or land craft controlled by a ground-based operator. There are now even submersible drones able to conduct underwater inspections. Part of the military and defense landscape for decades, drones have emerged as a safety technology in the past four years. Common uses involve drones being sent into hazardous areas such as confined spaces instead of workers – a maneuver that may boost productivity and efficiency. While OSHA has no specific regulation governing the use of drones, the agency has issued a memorandum to regional administrators outlining protocol for drone use during enforcement activities.
Hazardous situations they mitigate:
Why It’s Important: Technology for gathering data using drones has undergone significant advances in recent years. Drones now often come equipped with 3D cameras, thermal imaging cameras, artificial intelligence, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and 4K cameras with advanced sensors. Additionally, a variety of sensors and transducers use electronic gravitational, thermal, mechanical, electromagnetic and chemical capabilities, among others, to sense measures including gas leaks and atmospheric pressures. Drones also can perform numerous surveying tasks, many of which are already being undertaken commercially (Watkins, et al., 2020).
The drone market comprises 12 usage scenarios for commercial, industrial and civil government (CICG) over four categories: inspections, monitoring, surveying and mapping, and emergency response.
Drones have the ability both to minimize safety risks associated with hazardous work conditions, but in certain cases, eliminate them completely (NAEM, 2019). Operators can fly drones into high-risk situations and hard-to-reach areas to perform reality capture and take accurate measurements that otherwise would have required employees to expose themselves to risky environments (Karakhan & Alsaffar, 2019).
Despite the advancements of drone technology, short battery life remains a concern in many applications.
Drones for Working at Height and Confined Space Inspections report looks at the use of drones for vertical and confined space inspections and explores the various use cases associated with drones in the commercial, industrial and civil government sectors. Download the report.
NSC also hosted a series of webinars, Driving Down Key Safety Risks with Drones. Watch the webinars.