Look At What’s Up: Drones In The Construction Industry

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Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are increasingly being utilized to help project owners and contractors manage construction sites. Operating with a bird’s eye view, drones can help increase worker safety, boost efficiency, and monitor every stage of a project’s life cycle for the construction industry. Yet, owners and contractors should be aware that drone utilization comes with risks as well. 

Using Drones Pre-Construction and On-Site

Prior to breaking ground, a construction project requires a lot of planning. Drones can help map out the construction site, including providing 3-D images of the terrain saving time and the labor involved in having an individual survey the land. Additionally, surveyors typically use two-dimensional topographical maps to provide an overview of the terrain for a future construction site. These maps may be outdated or inaccurate due to terrain changes, which could lead to costly errors and project change orders down the line. Drones offer an accurate and updated view of the conditions on the ground. Drone data can be used to help a design team understand the project site, orient structures, and locate utilities and power lines.

While the project is underway, contractors and owners can use imagery and data collected by the drones to visualize progress in real-time, monitor workers and equipment, and assess and document the impact of weather or accidents on the job site. Drones, for example, can perform inspections of equipment and hazardous environments. A drone can easily inspect a high-rise building in lieu of having an inspector climb scaffolding to reach different sections of the building. Drones can also perform dangerous tasks that humans currently undertake, such as taking measurements from great heights. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls account for more than 36% of construction fatalities.

Drones can keep track of equipment, tools, and other assets and help in preventing theft. According to existing research, theft on construction sites costs the industry up to $1 billion dollars annually.

With drones, clients can view a project from a remote location using a live stream or pre-recorded video captured by a drone’s high-resolution cameras. This saves both the client and the project team a significant amount of time and resources, which can then be used elsewhere.

After the project is completed, drones can be used in marketing materials to tell the project’s story from creative angles and help a project owner and contractor build a portfolio of clients.

The Pitfalls of Drones

The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) regulates drone use. The project management team and its construction attorneys should understand the risks associated with both the use of the drones themselves and the compliance risks associated with them, including having licensed, qualified pilots operating the drones. Moreover, regulations continually evolve, so it’s important to keep up to date in order to ensure FAA compliance.

According to the American Bar Association, construction lawyers should be aware of common law principles and state and local laws, including those directly regulating drone use, as well as other implicated legal principles such as privacy, trespassing, and nuisance, intellectual property rights, and potential contractor licensing issues.

Cybersecurity is also a concern both from the standpoint of the drone’s operational controls and in transferring and securing imagery, data, and flight records once they have been recorded.

Another exposure to consider involves drone accidents, raising liability and insurance concerns. Managing what happens above construction sites should be an integral component of the project’s risk-management protocols.

While drones offer efficiencies, improved workplace safety, and potential cost savings for the construction industry, they also come with risks that must be taken into account. It’s critical for a project’s contract provisions to include liability and indemnity clauses involving drones and insurance requirements.

Sources: CDC, American Bar Association, Construction Dive