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OSHA's authorization of drone inspections causes controversy

Construction contractors in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. are concerned over the implications of a 2018 OSHA memorandum that authorizes investigators to use drones in job site inspections. One concern is that the drones, which are equipped with cameras to take pictures and video recordings, will go beyond the limited scope of an inspection and infringe upon employers' privacy.

Employers have the right to protest an inspection, but the introduction of drones may complicate this. In addition, if one employer on a multi-employer construction site gives permission, the inspection may affect the rights of those employers who did not give permission. Another issue relates to the question of who owns the airspace above a construction site.

Drones have become attractive for many construction contractors. According to the Commercial Construction Index for the fourth quarter of 2018, which was conducted by USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 74 percent of construction companies will adopt them in the next three years. Smaller contractors are also attracted to drones because of increased affordability and clearer piloting and use guidelines.

Contractors who are unsure how to react to a drone inspection can follow this advice. First, they should develop a strategy for inspections and designate someone to accompany the drone team. They could also participate in the flight planning stage without limiting the inspection's scope.

However employers take the news, they should not lose sight of the fact that they need to maintain a safe work environment. In the event that employees incur workplace injuries, they may file for workers' compensation benefits, thus starting a long process for both sides. Victims, for their part, may want to have a lawyer because the claim could be denied on the grounds that they were negligent. A lawyer might explain the advantages and disadvantages of a lump-sum settlement too.

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