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Controversy builds over OSHA's authorization of drone inspections

A 2018 OSHA memorandum now allows its investigators to use camera-equipped drones during workplace inspections. Many contractors in New Jersey and across the U.S. are objecting to the measure, saying that the drones, which are capable of taking pictures and video recordings, can violate privacy.

The main concern is how the employer's right to object to inspections will be affected. OSHA's investigators require permission from an employer before conducting an inspection; however, if the construction site has multiple employers working on it, the permission of one employer will affect the rights of the others. Another question involves the ownership of the airspace above a construction site.

At the same time, drones continue to be a desired item among construction owners. About 74 percent of construction companies surveyed in the Commercial Construction Index for the fourth quarter of 2018, which is a survey by USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say that they will be incorporating drones within the next three years. Affordability and clearer drone pilot requirements make them attractive to smaller contractors as well.

Construction industry groups have not developed strategies for dealing with OSHA investigators who come with drones. However, contractors are advised to participate in drone flight planning with the OSHA crew, designate someone who can accompany the crew and never try and limit the scope of the inspection.

OSHA's measures are meant to improve workplace safety and decrease the number of accidents. Those who are injured, though, may still file a workers' compensation claim and be covered for medical expenses, short- or long-term disability if applicable and a percentage of lost income. They are not guaranteed benefits, so they may need to mount an appeal in the last resort. A lawyer may help with the appeal and explain the pros and cons of a lump-sum settlement.

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