UK & Europe
Insurance & Reinsurance
The use of drones (also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles) continues to increase across various industries including off-shore, construction, surveying, infrastructure, warehousing, filming & photography, agriculture and insurance. There are clear benefits to their use for high risk work activities, both in reducing the exposure of employees to risk, and the speed with which drones can be deployed, such as for the inspection of damage on the exterior of a high rise building or off-shore platform.
As the use of drones becomes more common, we look at the health and safety implications, the responsibilities of businesses and operators, and their regulation.
Who regulates drone use?
The regulation of drone use is split between various organisations including the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Police and Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB).
The two key regulators for businesses when the drone is being used are therefore the CAA and HSE. The Memorandum of Understanding between the HSE and CAA confirms the HSE's responsibility for work on the ground and the CAA's in flight. However, there is potential for this line to be become blurred; as drones become more common in the workplace, will further clarity be provided?
What will each regulator consider?
In respect of the HSE's on the ground work, this encompasses the regulation of employers' day-to-day health and safety duties towards employees and non-employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its associated regulations.
Whilst the technology is new, the same health and safety obligations apply when used at work:
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 ("PUWER") require employers to ensure:
To comply with this requirement the employer needs to consider the equipment, available information and the conditions it will be used in. For example the working environment for a drone being used to inspect an oil platform in the North Sea will be very different to photographing a wedding.
In particular, an employer should ensure:
The CAA is primarily concerned with enforcing the requirements of the Air Navigation Order. As far as businesses are concerned, this includes the following requirements:
A failure to comply with these rules can result in the operator or pilot being prosecuted and fined (provided there are no injuries, otherwise imprisonable offences may be possible). There is also scope for the court to order the forfeiture of the drone.
A final point for businesses to be aware of is the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation, if photographs and video are being recorded or stored and it is possible to identify persons.
Ready to take flight?
The use of drones by businesses is clearly beneficial in reducing exposure to risk, and increasing efficiency, in the workplace. Traditionally higher risk activities requiring considerable time to plan and prepare can be performed much more quickly and safely. However, their introduction, as with any new equipment or working practice, brings with it novel risks and liabilities, as well as how questions regarding how to effectively regulate their use. The Drone Bill 2017-19 had its first reading in Parliament back in January 2019, however has not progressed any further since then, and thus many of these issues remain unaddressed.
It will be interesting to see if the law can keep up with the emerging technology, but in the meantime businesses and operators should be aware of their responsibilities before deployment.
Author: Alan Kells, Senior Associate
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 “…..in the case of an unmanned aircraft, [flight]takes place between the time the aircraft is ready to move with the purpose of flight until such time it comes to rest at the end of the flight and the primary propulsion system is shut down.”
 Regulation 4
 Air Navigation Order 2016 was amended by the Air Navigation (Amendment) Orders 2018 and 2019