Sorry to disappoint you Superman fans but that’s not your favorite superhero in the sky – it’s an OSHA drone. OSHA has begun using drones to collect evidence. Over the past year, it has been confirmed that the agency has used drones in several inspections. We can only expect that OSHA’s use of drones will continue and so employers should begin preparing themselves accordingly. This article explains OSHA’s policy on the use of drones as well as issues that employers need to consider.

OSHA’s Guidance Document 

Currently, the use of drones is limited to areas that are inaccessible or pose a safety risk to inspection personnel. Drones may also be used to provide assistance in emergencies or with compliance activities. OSHA is required to obtain the express consent of the employer prior to using a drone on any inspection. In addition, personnel on a site on which an aerial inspection is to occur must be notified prior to the launching of the drone.

Each OSHA Regional Office is required to designate a manager to oversee the drone program. The manager will be responsible for compliance with regulations governing the use of such aircraft’s, as well as the following operational requirements:

  • The manager must keep visual line-of-sight with the drone
  • The drone must be operated during daylight
  • The drone speed must be kept at 100 mph or less and at a height not greater than 400 feet
  • The manager must ensure that the drone does not fly over persons not participating in the operation

Employer Considerations

There is no clear-cut formula to follow in deciding whether to grant OSHA permission to use drones during an inspection. That decision is best made as a matter of company policy prior to the actual inspection. Other actions that employers need to consider:

  • As a condition to agreeing to allow a drone inspection, you should require OSHA to share all data and photographs collected by the drone
  • Depending on OSHA’s reasons for conducting the inspection, you may be able to limit the drone’s area of inspection
  • You should have an employer representative monitor/observe the drone noting the areas covered