Technology

3 Ways Drone Startups Are Making Dangerous Workplaces Safer

Potential hazards such as loose scaffolding or fuel tank leaks are identified earlier.
3 Ways Drone Startups Are Making Dangerous Workplaces Safer
Image credit: Hinterhaus Productions | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Startup mentor, CEO & tech blogger.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you look at the numbers on job-related accidents, something disturbing becomes clear -- going to work can be unsafe.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 2.3 million people worldwide die due to work-related reasons each year. It’s a figure that comprises both job-site accidents and deaths due to illness or exposure to hazardous materials. To put it in perspective, that is a million more deaths every year than the 1.25 million deaths, worldwide, attributed to road traffic.

In high-risk industries such as construction the risk of death over a 45-year career is 1 in 200. Add to that the 340 million non-fatal workplace injuries that take place each year and it’s easy to see that we must find ways to reduce risks in work environments .

Related: Amazon and Tesla Listed Among the Most Dangerous U.S. Workplaces

The human toll should be enough to leave us motivated to effect change. But in every business, you also have to look at the bottom line, and workplace injuries and illnesses are costing employers more than $3 billion a year.

As always, in technology we trust, and drones are part of the process of treating some of those problems. Whether at an oil refinery or a power plant, here are some of the ways drones are improving working conditions and respective drone startups that are part of the advancement.

Inspection and collection.

Keeping workers safe is a priority for all employers, and regular site inspections are an important component of this. But when it comes to inspecting hard-to-reach places, such as industrial chimneys, rooftops, fluid barrels, or even just a high scaffolding, often times it’s the inspection itself that causes injury. 

Some startups are aimed towards improving inspections, such as the Sparrow drone by Percepto. It's an autonomous drone with day and night (thermal) vision capabilities, which treats safety at site inspections with its ability to access areas that would pose a danger to human inspectors. Without the risk to human life, the pre-programmed drone inspections can be performed more frequently. The result is that site inspectors are exposed to less harm, while potential hazards such as loose scaffolding or fuel tank leaks are identified earlier. 

Once the site is inspected, data needs to be collected. Drones are also able to collect, transmit and analyze site data more efficiently than humans can, giving employers a more accurate picture of what’s happening on their site.

Related: 5 Ways Drones Are Changing the World

Emergency situations.

From fires to gas leaks to hazardous waste spills, disasters strike, even at the most diligently inspected work sites. Drones are minimizing the odds of a chemical disaster occurring, and they’re also acting as first-responders when the unimaginable happens. After all, there’s no reason to put human lives on the line, when you can send a drone in first to assess the situation.

For the sake of evaluating an entire disaster site, drone company PrecisionHawk teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 to map out an industrial landfill in South Carolina that was releasing toxic particles into the air. The result was a full assessment of the area in under an hour, a job that would take human surveyors days or even weeks to complete, exposing them to unnecessary hazards.

Security breaches.

Whether industrial, military, or personal, perhaps one of the biggest uses for drones is in the area of security. While drones can’t replace their human counterparts or eliminate the need for manpower, there’s no question that a drone can cover more ground in less time than the combination of humans and stationary cameras.

Aptonomy is a drone company which equips its UAVs with a night-vision camera. The low-flying drones can hone in on an intruder and capture a mugshot -- something a stationary camera can do with less accuracy. But while it may seem that the benefits of security drones are mostly for employers, they also keep employees out of potentially dangerous situations. Because drones provide such an accurate picture in real time, they significantly reduce the risk posed to security guards and emergency responders.

Related: The Drone Industry: Thoughts From an Outsider

We still have a long way to go when it comes to keeping workers safe on the job. And while employers will never be able to achieve zero-risk on their sites, autonomous drones located on-site, conducting dozens of daily missions, are a huge step in the right direction to reducing exposure to hazardous materials, accidents and death. In the meantime, I’m grateful to be working from home today.

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