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Contractors can find distinct advantages to being early adopters of drones in the construction sector, especially on the safety front. OSHA statistics for casualties in 2015 indicated that of 937 total deaths in the construction industry, 364 were caused by falls. At almost 39 percent of total deaths, falls represent a large share of construction-related fatalities (highway traffic incidents excluded). 

With the introduction of the commercial drone, difficult-to-reach spots become accessible without requiring a worker to put himself or herself at risk. 

While drones tend to get most of the attention, it’s really the software that powers the operational advances. Drones are great at flying, but construction companies also are investing in software to make sense of all the photographic, GIS, thermal and infrared data gathered by sensors and cameras mounted on drones. 

Management software ensures efficiency and ROI, from flight planning and reporting to making sure the pilot flies safely in controlled airspace. Many inspection sites reside in controlled airspace, so it’s crucial for companies to obtain proper permissions before drone takeoff.

Following are a few specific cases in which construction and engineering organizations are using drones to keep workers on the groundand out of harm’s way.

1. Roof Inspections 

The roof is one of the most difficult and dangerous areas of a building to inspect. Tricky access, sharp inclines, weak structural integrity and challenging weather conditions can increase the risk of a fall. 

Drone technology makes roof inspections cheaper, easier and safer, with the added bonus of allowing firms to perform them more often.

One of the earliest drone use cases involved attaching a high-quality camera to the aircraft and live streaming the resulting video to a trained inspector on the ground. This capability alone makes drones an attractive proposition for construction and engineering firms, insurers and regulators, each of which needs to perform frequent and thorough checks to ensure that proper protocols are being followed, and that structures are safe and constructed according to standards. 

In addition, the video recorded by a drone’s camera is viewable to anyone in the chain of command, increasing the transparency of such operations.

2. Scaffolding

Falls from scaffolding lead to dozens of deaths each year. Ensuring that scaffolding is safe with a visual inspection is vital to protecting the safety of workers and insulating the company from liability. 

With a drone, it’s simple to inspect fastenings and check that all boards are in place, and do so without sending an employee into a precarious situation. Further, drones can eliminate the need for scaffolding entirely, such as when inspecting the walls of a building.

3. Flashing

Flashing requires inspection to avoid water damage and, in the event of a leak, to find and isolate the source of the problem. Inspecting flashing with a drone is not only cheaper and safer, but it also helps preserve the building’s value. Water damage can lead to mold, structural damage and other costly repairs.

4. Windows

Windows on tall buildings are difficult to inspect, especially when they don’t open from the inside. A drone can fly close to windows without the need to put a human worker on a ladder, scissor lift or suspended scaffold. With this close vantage, it’s simple to check for cracks in insulation, weather-stripping or damage to the glass itself.

5. Unstable or Crumbling Surfaces

In a recent case, a UAV was used to create a 3D model of a dilapidated dam that was deemed too dangerous for workers to walk on. Using drone technology, the surveyors were able to prevent risk to their employees, acquire aerial data they couldn’t have attained with a boat and enjoy significant savings when compared to hiring a helicopter.

6. Volumetric Stockpile Assessment

This quickly growing use case employs drones to calculate the quantity of gravel, aluminum rods, rock salt, sugar beets or any material in a large pile.

Safety incidents involving surveyors climbing with heavy equipment across these huge piles, which can give way underfoot, are not uncommon. The results of a well-run drone aerial data operation are highly accurate and reliable.

7. Sensors for Cold and Hot Spots

Drones can be outfitted with an array of sensors that can see far beyond what the naked eye allows. When a building is close to completion, a drone with a thermal sensor can fly overhead and identify cold and hot spots, areas that might need additional HVAC infrastructure or areas that could pose risks of electrical fire. 

A drone with thermal imaging capabilities also can assess the efficiency of a solar panel array, showing any areas that are behaving abnormally. 

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