A Bird? A Plane? It’s an OSHA Drone

Source: Dmitri Kalinovsky - 123RF

OSHA inspectors are now authorized to use camera-carrying Unmanned Aircraft Systems — or drones — to collect evidence during inspections in certain workplace settings.

OSHA’s guidance memo requires express consent from an employer prior to drone use. Under OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite Citation Policy, more than one employer may be citable for a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard.

This means that OSHA inspectors are not only authorized to conduct in-person inspections of your workplace, but they can also fly remote-controlled aircraft above your work site to track down safety violations.

According to a report in OH&S, one area of concern with OSHA’s drone use is your Fourth Amendment right to object to the expansion of an overbroad inspection.

The memo states that inspectors must “obtain express consent from the employer” prior to using a drone. If the employer objects to the drone’s use, then the aircraft won’t fly, according to the guidance memo.

There is also a risk of becoming a target for multiple and frequent future investigations when sending an OSHA inspector away from your doors — or, in this case, away from your airspace. That said, the better option if facing an OSHA drone inspection might be to allow the drone’s use, but to work with the agency to limit the inspection.

Currently, when you grant an OSHA inspector entry for a limited inspection, such as one responding to an employee complaint, you may object to the expansion of the inspection to other areas of your workplace.

For instance, you may allow the inspector to enter but can object to the inspection of certain portions of your workplace beyond the scope of the complaint.

Moreover, you can limit certain aspects of the inspection, such as the taking of photographs or videotaping of areas, which happen to reveal trade secrets, or questioning employees while they are working.

The OSHA guidance memo also notes that Federal Aviation Administration rules require any OSHA region using a drone to designate a staff member as an “unmanned aircraft program manager” to oversee training requirements and other program elements.

This includes ensuring that the drone inspection is approved and that a qualified OSHA team is available to conduct the inspection before any flight operation begins.

In addition, the National Fire Protection Association issued its first unmanned robotics guidance (NFPA 2400, Standard for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Used for Public Safety Operations) in December.