Drones in the Workplace: Safety Advocate, Privacy Liability, or Both?

Drones in the Workplace Safety Advocate Privacy Liability or Both

Thanks to early cases of misuse and privacy concerns, drones often get a bad rap as being a scary and dangerous new technology. However, one of the reasons for the explosive growth of drones is its promise of making work go faster, more easily, or more safely within a variety of industries. For example, there are several ways in which drones are already being implemented in construction and manufacturing industries as a way to improve workplace safety.

Drones are small, lightweight, and mobile. By sending a drone on a reconnaissance mission into an elevated or high-risk work area, they can send pictures back that will warn workers of any hazards or safety issues. Plus, with further robotic improvements, they may even be able to perform some tasks at a height, such as welding or drilling.

The same can be said of equipment inspection. Drones may be small enough to get inside of equipment and spot maintenance issues before they become massive hazards.

Drones could also provide safety inspectors with a view of the facility at a distance. Can you imagine how many more inspections could be done if an inspector didn’t have to physically drive to each facility, but could instead send a drone equipped with video capabilities to tour the worksite? A recent study shows that when it comes to pinpointing safety issues, the outcomes of such drone efforts are just as accurate as if the inspectors were there in person.

Another way drones can help workplace safety is through surveillance. But here’s where it gets tricky.

For years, industries have used standard workplace surveillance cameras to catch thieves, review situations of safety misconduct, and generally capture workplace incidents on tape. With their mobility, drone surveillance cameras can cover more ground and give employers a fuller picture of what happened. It has also been suggested that companies use drone surveillance to view employees outside of the workplace, such as those on workers’ comp leave or disability, to be sure they are as injured or disabled as they claim. There are also those in favor of using the technology to monitor employees who are suspected of exposing trade secrets or violating a non-compete clause.

As you can imagine, there are many concerns about how drone surveillance could violate privacy. Is it unethical for a drone to follow a suspicious employee before they’ve done anything wrong? Or can it be argued that if the employee is innocent, they have nothing to hide? This kind of activity could definitely open employers up to lawsuits of privacy or discrimination claims. If employers are attempting to use drone surveillance for workplace safety issues, they must be very careful to employ strict guidelines that include a neutral process for selecting who will be monitored and under what circumstances.





Carrie Charity Murphy is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions and Improve comedienne based in Louisville, Kentucky. She lives with her husband Ben and their two dogs, Sprocket and Ms. Brisby.
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