Drones are more than just an expensive gadget for technology devotees. As Liz Parsons from Hughes & Salvidge explains, within the construction and demolition industries, these aerial observation devices are playing an increasingly important part in surveying and monitoring worksites.
With a high-quality camera fitted to the drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), construction companies can capture detailed images – live or recorded – and video footage of work on a site as it happens.
In terms of health and safety, drones offer a number of invaluable capabilities and benefits, rounding out traditional methods of assessment and supervision, as we explore here.
Inspection and surveys
As health and safety standards are of paramount importance to the smooth running of a site, a drone can oversee every aspect of that site from a bird’s eye view. Drones are capable of close-up surveillance of even the tallest and most inaccessible structures and can help construction companies ensure that all work is carried out in compliance with even the most stringent health and safety regulations.
The kind of inspection a drone is capable of has previously only been possible through the use of weather-dependent light aircraft or helicopters. Saving valuable resources, drone use enables a full sweep of an entire site at a fraction of the time and expense, even in bad weather.
While localised manual surveying will always have a place on construction sites, the use of a drone can reduce the risks of surveyors working at height, cover large areas of a site at once and keep a project on schedule by speeding up the inspection process.
In the vast majority of cases, every effort is taken to ensure work on a site is carried out in full compliance with health and safety regulations, but occasionally infringements can occur.
Images and video from a drone help to guide a project through to completion, and although they cannot be used by the law to “check up” on employees, having a drone on site can act as a deterrent to cutting corners, keeping a workforce operating at the highest standards and maintaining a safe working environment.
Thanks to the presence of a drone, the risk of accidents is reduced and, if and when they do occur, it is easier to see how and why something went wrong in order to prevent any repeated incidents.
Furthermore, where some environments can be hazardous, such as where there may be asbestos or even in the event of an emergency like a fire, sending a drone in to survey an area gives a construction team vital information without endangering human health.
It’s not just once a site is operational that a drone can make itself useful. The developmental process can benefit from a comprehensive health and safety audit before any work begins, and some drones can even map completely accurate 3D models of a site, which is particularly valuable for sensitive refurbishments or restorations.
Historic buildings tend to be ornate and confined in their design, so a combination of laser scanning, GPS technology and drone imagery can exactly recreate a digital three-dimensional representation of a site, allowing construction teams to preempt health and safety complications and come up with workarounds ahead of time.
This not only saves time that may have otherwise been spent tackling problems as they arise, but means that teams can minimise potential contact damage from manually surveying vulnerable historic structures.
This kind of scanning can also allow construction teams to ensure a project is progressing as it should. By overlaying drone photography over original blueprints, it’s easy to see any deviations that may have occurred and rectify them safely before they become bigger and costlier problems.
Drone photography and combined technologies makes reporting back to clients easier and more in-depth at every stage of a project, especially when it’s not possible for them to visit a site in person.
What’s more, where it’s essential that health and safety monitoring is carried out without noise and disruption, a drone is the obvious answer to keep any disturbance down to a minimum. Working on sites such as schools requires as little intrusion as possible, and reporting through drone use can be done without attracting any attention.
Training staff to use drones
As drones are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the law states that staff must be fully trained to use them for commercial use, before being approved by the CAA. A drone is essentially an unmanned aircraft, so just like a pilot, a drone operator must be in full control of their vehicle at all times.
There are a number of training courses specifically designed for construction-based companies so that team members can learn how to take to the skies, get up to speed and feel confident operating a drone on site, as well as the regulations that govern their use. On completion, participants will gain a full CAA Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) accreditation.
As well as legal accreditation, it’s also necessary to take into account privacy laws and no-fly zones when using drones for construction purposes. Training courses will cover this, but companies must ensure they are informing everyone on site when a drone will be present, as it’s against the law to record people without their knowledge.
To stay within the law, a drone should only record for a specific purpose, avoid capturing footage of anyone who isn’t part of the construction team. In fact, drone use on congested sites, such as shopping centres, is subject to prior approval by the CAA. Under the Data Protection Act, any footage recorded must also be securely stored.
Although there are important steps to take before a drone can be legally and safely incorporated into work on site, drones give teams working in construction or demolition an invaluable view of a site that would otherwise be too awkward, dangerous or potentially damaging to attain. This added perspective is fast-becoming an indispensable element of maintaining high standards of health and safety on all kinds of construction and demolition projects.
Case study: Hughes & Salvidge
Leading decommissioning company Hughes & Salvidge is one firm that is developing the way it monitors health and safety on site through use of a drone.
Aware of the cutting-edge capabilities a drone could help it capitalise on, and looking to stay at the forefront of their industry, Hughes & Salvidge invested in a drone in 2016.
The new technology has allowed it to view its work sites as never before, with sweeping footage from on high and incredible detail up close, something it had only ever come close to achieving through manned helicopters and light aircraft.
This has revolutionised the way it gathers information for site compliance, simultaneously saving them time, money and manpower on manual surveying and inspections, and freeing up members of the team to analyse images and video rather than collecting it.
Hughes & Salvidge’s drone has already proved its worth, with invaluable data captured on demolition projects the company has undertaken in Aldershot, the Isle of Sheppey and Portsmouth.
The teams involved have been able to risk-assess their working environments at a more comprehensive level of detail than ever, using the information the drone records to better inform decision-making and troubleshooting, and ensuring the highest benchmark of health and safety is adhered to at all times.
Top image: Jaime Andrews/Dreamstime.com