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by Richard Venables

Working at height poses a number of logistical and safety challenges for building contractors and facilities management professionals.

Until recently, the only way to gain access to elevated areas for inspection purposes, without contravening health & safety regulations, was via the use of scaffolding or, for more easily accessible areas, mobile elevated working platforms (MEWPs).

Now, however, there is an alternative – drones. If you want to carry out an inspection of a roof or an elevated structure, using drones fitted with cameras means no one has to physically climb up, or be lifted up, to survey the target location. That means there is no need for scaffolding or MEWPs.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits that offers.

The challenge of scaffolding

Scaffolding is not easy to erect. It must be put up by a licensed contractor, which often means hiring somebody in to do the job, and it is subject to rigorous health and safety regulations. When scaffolding is used on commercial premises, the building owner or operator carries a share of the responsibility for ensuring compliance with health and safety standards.

The difficulty of erecting scaffolding increases with the size and height of a building. Gaining access to the roof of a regularly shaped two storey building is relatively straight forward. But as you get higher, stronger and sturdier supports are needed, and the rigs become inevitably more complex. This is especially the case around irregularly shaped buildings, or where there is no direct vertical access from the ground to the intended work location.

If scaffolding needs to be erected outside the boundaries of your property in order to provide access – for example, using a public path or road – a special licence must be sought.

Drone benefits

All of this adds up to a lot of hassle and cost just to carry out a roof inspection. On a particularly tall building, or on large properties with extensive roof spaces where access to certain points becomes especially difficult, the costs of erecting scaffolding can become prohibitive unless you need to carry out major repairs.

Drones give you access to the most hard to reach parts of a structure for a fraction of the cost. Instead of waiting a day or more while the scaffolding is erected, you can fly a drone up over your property and start getting pictures to analyse in minutes.

High definition video gives you a real time perspective to look for tell-tale signs of wear and tear, while stills of a specific location can be downloaded to a computer for more in-depth analysis. As well as zooming in on spots that may be a cause for concern, digital modelling software can take a still image and recreate a detailed 3D graphic, giving you all the views you could get if you were up looking at the structure yourself, and more.

Such is the level of sophistication of software these days, you can also run models relating to heat loss and energy efficiency, water ingress from damaged areas, and the likely progress of deterioration over time. All from a single still of a damaged area taken by a drone.

Facilities management professionals rely on regular inspections to spot signs of wear and tear so remedial action can be taken before it becomes too big an issue. Because of the costs and challenges associated with scaffolding, roofs and elevated structures are the most difficult to inspect regularly, which in the long run makes these areas a hot spot for serious deterioration.

With drone technology, FM professionals can carry out regular inspections of high places in a cost-effective and timely manner, therefore making better-informed decisions about when they do need to put up scaffolding to carry out repairs.

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