A new piece of safety equipment is starting to become commonplace on construction sites around the world. However, it’s easy to overlook because most of the time it’s flying overhead. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka drones, have rapidly evolved from military and recreational applications to mission-critical tools for monitoring construction site safety. Today’s drones are really aerial data collection centers that use machine vision to “see” what’s happening on a job site. Once the data is collected, artificial intelligence (AI) can be used for data analysis and decision-making.
The commercial drone industry is growing very quickly. According to a recent Goldman Sachs report, the construction sector will see the fastest growth in what is expected to be a $100 billion market by 2020.
Accident Prevention in Construction
Accidents in the construction industry take their toll. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there were more than 1,000 construction industry fatalities in 2015.
Drones are a proactive way to improve site safety. The CDC report notes that one of the major advantages of drones is their ability to monitor large construction sites. UAVs equipped with infrared cameras, radar, or laser-based range finders, can provide detailed imaging of a site — and can closely track moving objects, such as people, equipment, and material. That information can help site managers identify potential safety issues.
Another important safety application for drones in construction is inspections. UAVs can inspect a large construction site more efficiently than an on-the-ground team can, notes the CDC report. That means drones can be used for detection of hazardous conditions and materials, and for assessing structures from the air—without placing workers at risk.
In fact, drones are being used today for everything from inspecting compromised rooftops to ensuring that equipment is being used properly. According to DroneDeploy, a leading cloud software platform, drones are ideal for tasks such as assessing building envelopes or investigating a roof for damage. This eliminates the need for someone to climb-up scaffolding or walk across an unsafe rooftop.
Another example of how drones are being used to improve safety is by facilitating inexpensive thermal inspections. The Beck Group, for instance, recently conducted inspections of a rooftop at that the University of Texas-Dallas by capturing thermal data that was then analyzed using DroneDeploy’s mapping capabilities. The aerial data identified compromised areas on the roof — without requiring inspectors to risk life and limb conducting a manual inspection.
Drones also have the potential to make government inspections of construction sites faster and more effective. In fact, drones could significantly speed-up some types of OSHA inspections, according to safety expert John Newquist. Moreover, as the CDC notes, once potential violations are identified by aerial imaging, inspectors can focus their investigation on those locations where problems may be lurking.
Another benefit of using drones for construction safety is safer maintenance, particularly on tall building, bridges, and smoke-stacks. The ability to use drones to conduct visual inspections of high-risk areas can save time and reduce health and safety risks.
When drones replace human inspectors, they immediately improve the safety equation. “Carrying out planned or reactive maintenance inspections of high-up structures, such as bridges, towers, roofs and scaffolding, can often involve costly access arrangements, and site personnel working at height,” notes a recent Birds Eye Drone report. “Drones can provide a quicker and easier way of carrying out the inspections, feeding back HD real-time footage to the engineer or surveyor on the ground.”
From Construction Site Safety to the Future of the Industry
The sky is the limit for drone technology growth within the construction sector. While many are beginning to incorporate drones for construction site safety, this technology has the potential for wide-ranging improvements across the whole industry. “The same safety, efficiency and cost benefits that appeal to the military make drones attractive for a wide range of business and civil government functions,” according to Goldman Sachs. “The $100 billion market opportunity we forecast over the next five years is just the tip of the iceberg. Drones’ full economic potential is likely to be multiple times that number, as their ripple effects reverberate through the economy.”
For more on how technology can improve your firm, the Aldrich Construction team is here to help.
Daniel McGunnigle, CPA
Aldrich CPAs + Advisors LLP
Daniel McGunnigle joined the firm in January 2018 and is currently a senior associate. Daniel has worked in public accounting since 2013, spending the first portion of his career with a large international firm in Portland. He has worked with small and large privately held companies and medium-sized public companies.
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