OSHA has recently authorized the use of camera-equipped drones to assist in their inspections of industrial demolition sites. The drone inspection program at OSHA is still small, with only two drones in operation. Nevertheless, the Associated General Contractors of America is monitoring its expansion.
Drones are an advanced technology that many industrial demolition contractors are actively using. Already, 34% of respondents reported using drones to fly over their job sites. Approximately 74% of construction companies said they would adopt them in the next three years, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s latest Commercial Construction Index survey.
The Use of Drones for Industrial Demolition Site Inspections
As with any new technology, there’s a learning curve and it’s crucial to ensure your company stays up to date. Additionally, it’s imperative to keep employees safe and always follow OSHA’s latest guidelines. Below we take a dive into the most common questions and concerns contractors have.
The immediate issue that drone inspections raise is that of privacy. Demolition companies in Portland are in agreement that workplace safety is of primary importance, but the use of drones creates new concerns for employers. One area of concern is whether or not the Fourth Amendment right to object to unreasonable searches and seizures will be impacted by the use of drones. Will an objection to the search be enough, or will OSHA then seek a search warrant?
Additional privacy concerns include the exposure of trade secrets. Drone video footage could certainly capture these as well as any other legal violations. Under current law, when an OSHA inspector is granted entry for a limited inspection due to an employee complaint, contractors can object to the expansion of the inspection to other areas of the worksite.
A memorandum in 2018 authorizing the use of drones specified that the inspector must “obtain express consent from the employer” before using a drone. If the employer objects, the drone stays grounded. OSHA would then have to get a search warrant to use drones.
At many construction and demolition sites, it is common for several subcontractors to be working under a general contractor. Does the general contractor have the authority to give consent for the use of a drone during an inspection? Who owns the airspace above the worksite and has the authority to grant consent? What happens to the video after the inspection? Can competitors or unions request a drone inspection through an FOIA request?
The OSHA guidance memo requires that the inspector get consent from an employer before drone use. Additionally, under OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite Citation Policy, more than one employer may be citable for a hazardous condition that violated OSHA standards.
How to Ensure OSHA Compliance in the Demolition Industry
How can demolition contractors adapt to the increased use of drones over their workplaces?
- Create a response strategy. Have a written response strategy for an OSHA drone inspection. Designate an authorized employer representative to sit next to the OSHA drone crew on the ground, just as you would if an employee was accompanying an inspector in a walk-around inspection.
- Limit the inspection if you so choose. Participate in the drone flight planning and do not allow drones over your worksite if you disagree with the flight path.
- Stay informed. Educate yourself and your organization of these new developments so your key personnel knows enough to prepare for future OSHA drone inspections. If an inspector appears wanting to do a drone inspection, know your rights.
- Follow best practices. A culture of safety is essential. Protecting employees and the environment from hazards means always following state and local guidelines and staying up to date on training.
Elder Demolition takes workplace safety seriously. From our protections against silica exposure, to our comprehensive employee safety training, we work hard to make sure our employees are safe. We invite you to contact us today to learn more about how we work and how we can assist you with your next project.