Eye in the Sky: What to know about OSHA’s use of drones during inspections

OSHA’S use of drones during inspections

In May 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a memorandum permitting the use of drones to inspect workplaces under certain circumstances. Since that time, OSHA has used unmanned aircraft systems (UASs or drones ) in a number of investigations, and their use is expected to become more common in the future. If you face the possibility of an OSHA drone inspection of your workplace, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Investigators may only use drones in the course of an OSHA inspection and only with an employer’s consent.
  • Review with the OSHA drone team the specifics of its flight inspection route and plan.
  • Consider whether OSHA’s proposed drone inspection may reveal operations, processes or specialized equipment that constitute trade secrets.
  • An OSHA drone operations team must have three members, and the drone must always remain in sight of the team. Like a traditional “on-the-ground” inspection, an employer should accompany the drone team to keep track of what areas and operations are observed by OSHA personnel.
  • An inspection drone may operate up to 400 feet above the ground or above the top of any structures. Based on such a  vantage point, the scope of an OSHA inspection can expand, if a drone observes additional, potential violations “in plain view.”
  • Ask the team whether they are recording (photos or video) the drone inspection. If so, request copies of those recordings.
  • OSHA sometimes works in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency. If a drone observes potential environmental dangers in the course of an inspection, OSHA is free to share that information with the EPA.