Drones are increasingly being considered as a go-to solution to carry out various tasks on-the-fly. Even in the height safety industry, it’s being suggested that drones can be used to inspect the condition of existing fall protection equipment. While building owners can use drones to carry out basic rooftop inspections, it would be negligent to consider a quick ‘view from the top’ as adequate enough to enable accurate assessment or recertification of a system.
Fall protection systems need to be inspected, both visually and physically, and this is where there is still a need for human interaction.
Fall protection equipment will have to be physically tested to check that there has been no loss of functionality on existing systems. Anchorages need to be regularly tested to ensure they can withstand the forces of a load, should a fall need to be arrested. This is done with the use of specialised equipment, which measures the load applied to the anchorage.
In addition to the equipment, the safety inspection must also cover the integrity of the structure to which the system is attached. This may require an inspection of both the exterior roof surface as well as the supporting structure underneath. Additionally, checking on the condition of the fixings attaching the equipment to the structure is vital to ensure they are strong and secure. These checks cannot be completed with a mere visual inspection.
Build-up of debris
Rooftops are continuously exposed to the elements, leading to the accumulation of leaves, dirt and other substances over time. Periodic removal of this debris is required to make the system more visible or to even allow an inspection to proceed.
Can drones conduct routine maintenance on existing systems?
The current drone technology will need to improve significantly for the equipment to be used for conducting maintenance on existing fall protection systems. For instance, the drone should be able to carry the equipment needed to effectively test the system. This means it will need to be adapted into larger, more robust machines. The advancement of drones to reach these aforementioned levels of capability will require many more hours of research and development. Additionally, all these innovations will add to the overall cost to the client, making the option out of reach for many.
Drones – the legal aspect
The legality of a drone should be considered before adopting it as a tool for your business operation. Are drones legal? Are they being operated safely and in accordance with Government regulations?
In the case of commercial drone operators, the Australian Government's Civil Aviation Safety Authority has set specific rules for persons operating drones for financial gain. It is vitally important that drones must only be operated by persons qualified in their use. In a lot of cases, it may be necessary for operators to have obtained a remote pilot licence and operator's certificate.
Good, old fashioned know-how
Until drones are fitted with fully functioning computers and analytics, they will not be able to accurately assess the correct systems required for each and every roof situation. While one can use them to bring back images to the ground, this information alone cannot help the company make an informed decision on the performance, safety and compliance of their fall protection equipment.
Sayfa Group, a leading manufacturer of height safety, access and fall protection systems, advises companies to hire the services of a qualified height safety inspector to physically inspect, assess, evaluate and deliver a complete and thorough report of the installed equipment.