OSHA recently announced a new method for inspections moving forward; Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones). This new method of inspections is raising concern among many employers, with most a majority being completely unaware of these changes. According to the memorandum, OSHA’s goal of using drones is to “collect evidence during inspection in certain workplace settings, including areas that are inaccessible or pose a safety risk to inspection personnel.”
What are Drones?
Drones were originally built for military purposes, but recent advances in technology have led to a wider application of their use in a variety of settings. They are essentially an aircraft without a human pilot on-board, not requiring any rest. Therefore, they can be flown for extended periods of time, limited only by fuel capacity and possible mechanical failures. Drones are rapidly growing in popularity and can now be equipped with numerous sensors and cameras. Data obtained from drones can include information regarding a variety of concerns, like methane emissions at a cattle ranch to radioactive zones at a defunct Superfund site. From rapid deliveries to security surveillance and more, drones have proven to be extremely beneficial in places that are inaccessible or unsafe for a person to enter.
But, drones have also raised a lot of issues – especially those relating to privacy. Because they are so discreet and can be misused in many ways, people have become increasingly worried about drones and their safety.
Who’s in Charge?
According to the memorandum, OSHA must first acquire express consent from the employer before deploying a drone at an inspection site. While it is comforting to know that OSHA drone use can be denied, many employers are rightfully concerned that if they do not comply with OSHA’s request they may be subjected to more frequent and probing inspections. Environmental and personal health and safety are complex systems, and no employer should feel the pressure to accept an extensive investigation without having the chance to participate in a bit of housekeeping. No one should succumb to the fallacious adage “You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide”, especially in today’s social and technological ecosystem.
If an OSHA inspector shows up requesting to conduct an inspection using a drone, know your rights.