A Q&A with BWC’s drone guru Joshua Grappy
By Adam King, BWC Public Information Officer
Joshua Grappy wasn’t surprised by the standing-room-only crowd in March at his 2019 Ohio Safety Congress lecture “Drones: Safety tools in the sky.”
Companies are clamoring to figure out how to use drones to save time, resources and manpower. Used properly, drones can positively affect the bottom line while potentially improving a business’ safety record.
Grappy is most interested in the latter as the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program coordinator. Anytime workers don’t have to face a dangerous situation to do their jobs is the easiest way to avoid accidents. That’s why Grappy is happy to talk to any company that wants to explore starting a drone program.
“Drones really are an exciting new technology,” Grappy said. “Commercial drone usage is in its early stages, but the Federal Aviation Administration estimates as many as 450,000 commercial drones will be in the air in just a few short years.”
Efficient. Cheaper. Safer. We got some one-on-one time with Grappy to talk about these drone-related words that are making companies drool.
How has drone use improved safety in the workplace?
JG: Drones are often advertised as being able to perform the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. For instance, confined-space inspections for pipes or ballasts can easily be done with a drone, without the need of a human ever having to climb down into potentially dangerous environments.
There are similar examples in construction, public safety and agriculture use. The drone industry is still in its infancy, and we will continue to see a lot of unique and innovative ways businesses can use drones to keep their workers safe.
How does BWC use drones in its work?
JG: We document workplace accident scenes. We fly our drones to capture pictures of a scene and then use photogrammetry software to build 3D models. This enables our investigators to essentially take the accident scene back to the office with them. The models we produce are fully measurable and you can rotate or fly through them to see things from any angle.
Have we seen a significant savings in workers’ comp or other areas by using drones?
JG: I don’t have any specific statistics related to monetary savings, but BWC views its drones as a safety tool. With that in mind, we can use this relatively inexpensive equipment to comprehensively document accident scenes in a way that was previously not possible. I feel that leveraging cutting-edge technology while keeping our investigators safe is worth every penny spent. Additionally, from a time perspective, the savings can be significant. The image collection from some of the more complex investigations can go from hours to minutes with the use of our drones. In many other industries there are examples of the work done by drones being accomplished eight times faster than traditional methods.
Are you seeing employers hiring out drone work or are they beginning to establish jobs for drone operators within their companies?
JG: It seems there is still a mix of both. However, it certainly depends on the type of work that needs done. Some jobs that are difficult to do technically might be more of a fit for a drone contractor with experience in the specific type of flight environment. More simple uses of drones for basic image capture can be easier to manage in-house.
Part of BWC’s drone program is to consult with employers who would like to start using drones. We help them navigate all the regulations, training and operational knowledge needed to use drones commercially. A lot goes in to putting a program together.
We can get companies up to speed quickly so they can make an informed decision on whether it makes sense to push forward with their own program or to hire it out. If a company has one pilot and just needs an aircraft to produce decent photos and video, you could get started with equipment and training for around $2,000.
What should an Ohio employer do if it is interested in starting a drone program?
JG: Reach out to me for more information. I will meet with them one on one, by phone or by email and help in any way I can. Drones are an incredible safety tool and I’m happy to share the expertise I’ve developed through the BWC drone program.
Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation
UAS Program Coordinator
Visit the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website on Unmanned Aircraft Systems for rules and regulations regarding the commercial use of drones, how to obtain your commercial certification, how to register your drone and much more.