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Drones on construction sites introduce new risks

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Drones will soon become prevalent at construction job sites, so it is vital that contractors know the current regulations for unmanned aircraft systems, as well as their potential risks and best practices for avoiding incidents and claims.

Drones are being used on construction sites to measure stock piles, track work progress, investigate accidents and monitor power lines, said Michael Mills, Louisville, Kentucky-based technical director for construction and energy with Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.

“They have some unique and good application for construction that may reduce the exposures to workers. In the past you might have had to a climb a tower to see what the insulator looks like, now you could send a drone up there,” Mr. Mills said Monday during the International Risk Management Institute Inc.'s annual construction conference in Orlando, Florida.

With drone prices decreasing to around $465 on average, there were 4.2 million drones sold this year, according to Mr. Mills. Drones that weigh between 0.55 and 50 pounds need to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, and the pilot in command must complete an aeronautics test and pass a background check.

In addition, drone operators must follow FAA regulations.

“The FAA requires that the drone be operated during the daytime or during twilight hours, as long as there are running lights on the drone. It has to be within the visual line of sight of the operator,” said Mr. Mills.

Pre-flight assessments are important for determining risks and creating a safer work site.

Cindy DePrater, Dallas-based vice president and corporate director environmental health and safety for Turner Construction Co., said her company reserves drone use for special circumstances.

“The landscape has gotten a lot clearer with FAA rules and regulations but it’s not as clear as you think it is in terms of the risk analysis and risk reward,” Ms. DePrater said.

When putting together a drone safety procedure, the operators’ training and qualifications need to be considered. According to Ms. DePrater, Turner uses licensed commercial pilots to operate drones. Communication between workers, neighbors, clients, drone operators and flight crew needs to be established, and maintenance records need to be kept, she said.

Drone operational exposures also include third-party bodily injury, privacy violations and cyber attacks — all of which needs to be insured against.

“In the FAA rules there is no mandatory liability coverage; it’s not like auto where you have to buy a policy,” said Aldo Fucentese, Boston-based vice president and division underwriting manager for Liberty Mutual’s specialty construction business.

Contractors can insure their drones with an ISO commercial general liability policy, but should be aware that unmanned aircraft liability endorsements need to be added, according to Mr. Fucentese.