The Worker Drone Revolution: It’s About Safety, Not Savings

Lately, it seems like it’s impossible to read the news without coming across a story about some new amazing task drones are accomplishing. When I read about these achievements, I get excited. I am awed and humbled by the possibilities that emerge as technology advances.

I’m noticing, however, that there are many who don’t share my feelings. Often when people hear about tasks being performed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that were formerly accomplished by human workers, there is an outcry: “These flying robots are taking our jobs!”

I’ve seen one too many of these comments and I want to explain why it is misguided to view using drones in the industrial workforce as a negative.

For one thing, drones don’t fly themselves – a human needs to either control the UAV or program its flight path. So we are not eliminating the need for humans. But that is beyond my point, which is: many of the tasks drones are “taking over” are very dangerous!

Drones are on the Verge of Revolutionizing Workplace Safety

According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there were 4,386 workers killed on the job in 2014. Of all industries, construction is the most dangerous. 1 in 5 on-the-job deaths occurred on a building site. That is a lot of lost lives.

What is consistently the leading cause of death in construction? Falls. Nearly half of all construction deaths involved a worker falling from a high place.

And what is the single best way to prevent falls? Keep workers on the ground.

Any time we can avoid sending crew members into life-threatening situations, that’s a good thing. If the job is high, hard-to-access, or dangerous – drones can probably help.

It is only a matter of time before we see UAVs taking over the more dangerous tasks involved in construction. Drones are already starting to be used to capture images of job sites and access areas with hazardous materials. Plus, building teams throughout the world are using drones more and more to monitor job sites for the purpose of improving safety. They’re using UAVs to inspect dangerous structures, keep better safety records, make models that allow for better planning and communication, and ensure projects stay on track and within budget. All of these functions make for a safer workplace.

Construction crews and their families should not only welcome, but celebrate the day when a drone will take over potentially deadly tasks.

Thankfully, we are seeing this day come for workers more and more. Microdrones just recently helped a client use a UAV to survey a dilapidated dam that was far too dangerous for humans to access. Using an md4-1000 drone as part of our mdMapper package, they were able to create highly accurate 3D models of the dam without endangering the lives of surveyors and other workers.

Every day, more engineering, architectural, and construction firms are using drones to inspect the nation’s crumbling infrastructure in ways that are far safer than traditional methods – which brings us to the second deadliest industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the industry with the second most workplace fatalities is transportation and warehousing. Again, drones are starting to take flight in these industries.

In March 2016, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials conducted a survey and found that 33 state departments of transportation have used or are researching and testing the use of UAVs for a variety of innovative applications, like clearing car crashes and inspecting bridges.

Drones are also being deployed to make warehouses safer. Walmart recently announced it is testing drones in their warehouses and Amazon is considering their use in a number of warehousing and delivery capacities. Meanwhile, droves of technology companies are developing a wide variety of UAVs for warehouses, including drones that scan barcodes for inventory and data collection and drones that procure items and fulfill orders.

The third-place industry for number of work fatalities is agriculture/forestry. Drones are helping here, too. As I write this, countless farmers are flying drones over their land, ensuring irrigation systems are working properly, measuring crop growth, and scanning for plant illness using infrared technology.

On Youtube, there’s a nice collection of videos of drones being used for forestry purposes – to trim high tree branches, fight forest fires, monitor wildlife, and safely survey wooded areas. UAVs are even being used to remediate bee hives and wasp and hornet nets. (Do you think the exterminators are feeling the sting of being replaced on that job? No way!)

Teams throughout the world are working on thousands more life-saving drone applications. It’s an amazing time to be a workplace safety professional.

It’s About Safety

The use of drones in the workplace is often characterized as cost cutting, using drones and robots instead of hard-working people. While there are definitely some aspects of drone use that improve cost-effectiveness and efficiency on job sites, I would argue that it is not the savings that is driving the decision to use drones: it’s the obvious logistic benefits of being able to easily access hard-to-reach places, and the dramatically improved safety that results.

Drones have been used to clean the windows of skyscrapers.

They can be (and in many cases are) used by the police, by firefighters, and, as Microdrones recently demonstrated, by lifeguards to enhance the safety of both workers and victims.

Drones are even helping to save the lives of baby deer.

It’s inarguable that UAVs are making the world a safer place. And the fact that drones are revolutionizing safety is something to be glad (not mad) about.

I’m excited to come to work every day because I love being a part of a team that develops solutions to real-world problems that make a direct impact on people’s lives and safety.

Bring us your challenges – Microdrones will solve them. When it comes to the possibilities for using drones, the sky’s the limit.