The hype is everywhere at the moment - drones will take over the world!
Well, not really but there are thoughts that drones could heavily impact the height safety industry, more specifically the inspection of existing fall protection equipment. While it is true that drones can offer building owners basic roof top inspections, it would be negligent to consider that a quick "view from the top" is adequate enough to enable accurate assessment or recertification of a system.
Fall protection systems must be physically inspected, not just visually, and this is where there is still a need for human interaction.
Physical testing is required to check that there has been no loss of functionality on existing systems. Anchorages need to be regularly tested to ensure that 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.
Other structural requirements
It is also necessary to check the integrity of the structure on which the equipment has been attached. This may require an inspection to both the exterior roof surface and the supporting structure underneath. Additionally, checking on the condition of the fixings attaching the equipment to the structure is vital to ensure it is strong and secure. Are the fixings still firmly attaching the system to the roof? Does it move or come away from the roof when touched? These important factors cannot be assessed by visual inspection alone.
Build up of debris
Roof tops receive a lot of exposure to the elements and leaves, dirt and other substances may have accumulated over time. The removal of this debris may be required to make the system more visible or to even allow an inspection to proceed.
At the end of the day, nothing beats the hands on inspection that a person can do.
Will drones soon be able to conduct routine maintenance on existing systems?
We think the reality is, that this will be far off into the future. It is not only their dexterity, which require huge technological improvements, that would be an issue. Take into consideration the equipment needed to ensure effective testing. How will a drone transport this equipment? To enable drones to carry these additional loads they 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, let's not forget, all these innovations will add to the overall cost to the client, making the option out of reach for many.
Are drones legal and 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 if you choose to use an organisation specialising in drone technology that you are employing 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. For more information on the requirements visit Civil Aviation Safety Authority's website.
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. So, while they may be able to bring back images to those on the ground, they alone cannot formulate determinations of the suitability and compliance.
Which begs the question, why double up on processes? A qualified Height Safety Inspector can inspect, assess, evaluate and deliver a complete and thorough report of access and fall protection systems without the need for a middle man (or in this case drone).
Innovation and technology must not get in the way of common sense.
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