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OSHA Authorizes Use of Drones for Inspections

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration are now authorized to use drones for workplace inspections.

Bloomberg Law obtained a May 2018 OSHA memorandum that says that unmanned aircraft systems “may be used to collect evidence during inspections in certain workplace settings, including in areas that are inaccessible or pose a safety risk to inspection personnel.”

The Memorandum

In the guidelines is a requirement of an employer’s consent for the agency to use a drone for inspection. However, it’s unclear what OSHA would consider to be an “employer.”

goce / Getty Images

Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration are now authorized to use drones for workplace inspections.

It’s unclear whether OSHA will consider permission from the general contractor sufficient or if consent will be necessary from all on-site contractors.

The memo also mandates each of the agency’s regions to designate a staff member as a drone manager, which would oversee training requirements and evaluate reports submitted by the drone teams. (Three-member flight teams are also required.)

The team must also include a “visual observer,” who is basically the compliance officer conducting the inspection, and a safety monitor. Last, the memo requires crews to follow TAA requirements, which mandate that the pilot must have passed an FAA test and be certified by the FAA.


Concerns from the use of drones arise regarding an employer’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protects people from unreasonable searches.

For instance, currently an employer may grant entry for a limited inspection on just one area of the work site. An inspection could be broadened, however, if the inspector sees a hazard in plain view. That “plain view” is substantially greater when using a drone.

Employers have the option to participate in the flight planning, though, and if an employer doesn’t agree with the flight plan, they can deny consent for the drone.

Bloomberg’s investigation also recommended requiring OSHA to immediately share images taken by the drone, and designating someone from the company to sit with the OSHA crew manning the drone, just like a company representative would walk with an OSHA inspector on the ground.

OSHA declined an interview with the news outlet, but in a Nov. 27 statement, the agency did disclose that drones have been used for nine inspections thus far, mostly following accidents that made the sites too dangerous for officers on foot.

Incidents included an oil drilling rig fire, a building collapse, a combustible dust blast, an accident on a television tower and a chemical plant explosion.


Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Drones; Health & Safety; Inspection; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA

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