Drones may already be impacting the world of workers’ compensation.
Fewer workers on communications towers are falling to their deaths, according to Todd Schlekeway, executive director of the National Association of Tower Erectors.
Schlekeway, who was speaking at a panel in October at the Drone World Expo in San Jose, Calif., was citing an OSHA study of 135 deaths on communications towers recorded since 2003.
He was moderating a panel on how drones, or unmanned aerial systems, are transforming the communications industry, along with Thomas Camp, in business and product development with Verizon’s innovation program, Christopher Moccia, executive vice president of telecommunications for Measure, and Art Pregler, UAS program director for AT&T.
The OSHA study shows that after a spike in deaths in 2013 and 2014, when a massive amount of communication tower building took place to keep up with an explosion in cellular demand, the number of deaths have been falling.
There were four deaths in 2015, seven deaths in 2016 and two deaths so far this year, although there were some recent deaths that have yet to be reported, according to Schlekeway.
He noted that there are more than 308,000 cell sites and towers in the U.S. With demand for more towers, and maintenance required of all of those towers, Schlekeway and his fellow panelists said drones are increasingly important in helping to keep workers safer.
Drones are being used often to check out towers for natural hazards like bee hives and raptor nests, to look for infrastructure defects that could injure or kill someone ascending a tower, and to determine what tools will be needed when workers get to their destination high in the air to save trips up, the panelists said.
The lone insurance presence with a booth at the expo was BWI Aviation Insurance, a Corona, Calif.-based broker specializing in drone and other aerospace coverage.
Wesley Ellish, who was working the booth with a few fellow brokers, said they decided to take a spot at the expo in hopes of selling polices and educating drone users on the need for insurance.
“It kind of seems like insurance is on the backburner for some of these guys,” Ellish said.
She said that while several attendees who stopped at the booth felt insurance was the last of their worries, they were able to give dozens of quotes for basic liability policies to offer drone operators coverage.
Quotes were given to a mix of operators, ranging from startup companies to companies that were already considered mid-sized with growing fleets of drones, but by far the class of business that showed the biggest interest in buying drone insurance were instructors, she said.