Drones Taking On High-Risk Jobs for Workers

Source: Kitsadakron Pongha - 123RF

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in 2017, 166 U.S. workers died in confined spaces and 887 were killed by falls, the second-biggest cause of workplace deaths after car accidents.

Working in confined spaces to retrieve trash or fix machinery or working on tall scaffolding to paint a building can be fatal. Even with precautions including safety gear, air monitoring, and rescue workers on standby, things can still go wrong

As technology takes giant leaps in the 21st century, these potentially fatal jobs are starting to be done by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or commonly referred to as drones.

Companies such as Dow Inc., AT&T Inc., BASF SE, and Royal Dutch Shell Plc have begun using drones to do dangerous jobs such as inspecting tanks and towers from hundreds of feet in the air, replacing faulty parts in small tunnels, and looking into smokestacks. 

The average commercial drone costs about $25,000, but as requirements become more specialized, the price can rise as high as $250,000.

Billy Barden, Dow’s global technology director says, “Drones save us downtime, save cost, save on productivity for our maintenance personnel. They eliminate having to put a person in that potentially hazardous environment.”

According to the Insurance Journal, the number of commercial drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration exploded in 2018 to 277,000, though that’s still enough to do only a small fraction of industry’s dangerous jobs.

The new uses of drones show how technology can cut costs for companies while dramatically reducing risk, and even saving lives. They also show why businesses are pressing hard in Washington for the ability to use drones in more situations.