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PÖYRY POINT OF VIEW BLOG / 4 Oct 2016

Safety applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

In this latest Insight piece, Alfonso Fox discusses the increasing use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in safety assessments

In a few days’ time, Sellafield’s Andrew Buchan, Head of Analysis and Assessment, Security and Resilience will be at the CRA Conference discussing their experience in building up a safety case to permit the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)s at the Sellafield nuclear site.

Recent developments in technology means that the use of UAVs, often referred to as small drones, is expanding rapidly and significantly. They can offer various advantages, not only in terms of potential economic savings but also safety and environmental benefits. 

There is an expanding appetite for commercial applications of UAVs, including inspection of power lines and pipelines, land surveying, inspections of large factory roofs, and even delivering groceries. There are also potential risks of the use of UAVs, which include management of personnel near UAV operational zone, the management of other manned and unmanned aircraft in the UAV operational zone, and the potential impact in the event of a power failure or loss of control of the UAV.

Many practical and regulatory challenges will arise which will require both technological advances and a host of new certification standards for aircraft, systems and pilots.

At present, the main challenges are:

  • Meeting a wider field of regulatory requirements. Unlike conventional aircraft, there is a need to address the entire system that comprises the vehicle mechanical and electrical systems, the ground station, and the communication equipment. This would go into component reliability and procedures regarding training and maintenance.
  • Regulatory requirements keeping pace with rapid technological developments, for example a shift from manual operation (although via remote control) to a partially or fully autonomous UAV control system, and the possible regulatory environment for flights beyond the line of sight of the pilot.
  • Privacy and safety concerns – both within the sites boundaries and to members of the public.

Appetite from the Safety Industry

There is a large appetite from the ‘High Hazard’ industries such as the nuclear and oil & gas sectors, who recognise that UAVs can provide information more safely, cheaper, and can be deployed far more quickly than other current measures.

The below is an example of a short drone flight video showing the work going on inside a decommissioned SGHWR reactor in Winfrith, UK.

Specific safety benefits from UAVs involve reduction in working at height, erection and maintenance of scaffolding and access platforms, and significant reduction of personnel exposure to areas of high chemotoxic, industrial or radiological hazard.

Applications include remote inspection of hazardous areas, 3D mapping, terrain monitoring, wildlife monitoring, emergency arrangements and security monitoring.

Pöyry’s Experience

A client in a High Hazard Complex required a framework safety case to be prepared. Pöyry were tasked with producing the safety case for the use of UAVs across the whole of the client site.

The framework safety case defined and assessed an overarching Safe Operating Envelope (SOE) for the operation of small UAVs (<20kg) over the client’s site. It also produced a route map, identifying the procedures and permissioning documents which would be produced by individual flights.

The aims of the framework safety case are:

  • To detail the legislative framework surrounding small UAVs (<20kg). This involved consideration of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requirements combined with conventional and nuclear safety considerations.
  • To evaluate the potential consequences resulting from for loss of control or loss of power of a small UAV.
  • To produce a hazard identification and evaluation assessment of small UAV usage at site. Poyry included bespoke HSE derived keywords for domino event escalators, to evaluate domino/secondary hazards such as distraction events.
  • To identify and map out the appropriate compliance procedures for the use of small UAVs.

Opinion

There will be some challenges in meeting the new regulatory requirements and in the regulatory requirements keeping abreast with technological developments. However, UAVs can provide information more safely, more cheaply and be deployed far more quickly than is possible by existing means.

Contact information

Alfonso Fox
Senior Safety Engineer