· Features

HRD's pocket guide to... drones

The HRD’s pocket guide series offers an explanation of areas outside day-to-day HR that business-savvy HRDs need to have a handle on

Why do I need to know about it?

As the technology becomes steadily more sophisticated, user-friendly and cost-efficient, drones are going to have greater prominence in both commercial and consumer spheres. They’ve historically been used for recreational flying, photography and military purposes, but are increasingly being utilised by a wider array of organisations: from the Colombian authorities using them to hunt out remote drug farms, to Amazon developing a drone-based delivery system for its Prime customers. They’re becoming so ubiquitous in all walks of life that ‘drone killers’ were reportedly deployed while filming the final season of Game of Thrones, to prevent drones sneaking onto set and leaking spoilers.

Drones’ main advantage is providing easier or safer access to difficult to reach areas, for example overhead views for inspection. “It’s best to think of a drone as a tool or platform to carry a sensor or payload. These sensors could be anything from a high-quality camera to a tool to measure air quality,” explains Geoff Pugh, UK general manager at Consortiq, which provides training on how to legally and safely operate drones.

“The drone gives the ability to place this sensor in locations that might otherwise be very expensive, difficult or dangerous to get to. The data captured is where the real value is. Manipulating and using this data in real time can provide valuable insights to businesses of all sizes.”

What do I need to know?

Only qualified personnel can operate drones legally in the UK, so regardless of whether they’re being introduced into the business or used on a one-off project, everyone must be properly certified. Pilots must be authorised by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and have appropriate insurance cover.

“The business drivers for the use of drones are speed, cost reduction, reduction of risk and improvement in safety,” says Graham Brown, CEO of trade association the Association of Remotely Piloted Systems UK (ARPAS UK).

“Commercial uses of drones include surveying and mapping, inspection work, event photography, film and TV, search and rescue, and agricultural inspection. As this technology develops previously unthought of examples of drone use will become possible. Planning for their introduction is sensible but if you operate in any of those areas you should be looking at the use of drones now if you aren’t already,” he adds.

Where can HR add value?

The key thing for HR to remember is that drones will be augmenting people’s roles, not replacing them. Humans will still be required to interpret and analyse the data gathered by these machines.

“[Drones] aren’t replacing people; they are letting them do their jobs while avoiding or reducing the need to get into potentially risky situations, such as climbing up scaffolding or walking along railway lines. And where there’s no alternative to going into a dangerous setting, such as a firefighter entering a burning building, drones can give them live information,” says Kathy Nothstine, lead, Future Cities at Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre.

“Drones are creating new and different jobs rather than simply replacing people,” concurs Brown.

HR’s main role will lie in ensuring any drone pilots among the workforce are properly trained and comply with all the necessary statutory legislation and company policies. There may also be a piece around engagement and reputation management. It’s important to keep employees and the wider public informed of exactly how and for what purpose drones will be used.

Anything else?

If you only need drones for one-off use or short projects ARPAS UK provides a searchable operator list on its website, all of whom have liability insurance and the necessary CAA permission.

“Before you hire a drone company ask to see their PfCO [Permission for Commercial Operation] and insurance. Without them you are just as liable for any damage or incidents and they will be operating illegally,” advises Brown.