Coddington, Hicks & Danforth

Drones monitor railroad workers, surveillance concerns arise

Drones have been in existence for years, but only more recently has their use become so widespread and varied. As commercial drone use grows, we will see more unique ways of employing drones, which right now we perhaps can't even imagine.

Concerns arose because Union Pacific Railroad began aerial drone surveillance in December of 2017, to ensure its many safety guidelines were being followed. Debate between the railroad and its union started thereafter, with the union arguing that workers were more unsafe with the drone distraction ever present.

Multiple railroad employers are already using drones commercially in several ways, including these:

  • Inspect bridges -- Since 2014, drones have been used for jobs such as bridge inspection. Drones allow for human beings to not be put in harm's way. A drone can travel obscure places effortlessly where sending a human being could be difficult. Drones can also accomplish much more without a team and technology that was previously required to do the same job.
  • Check railroad tracks -- In 2015, BNSF Railroad became the first commercial operation to use of drones out of sight. The railroad obtained a waiver to fly an unmanned drone out of the operator's site, which bypasses one of the FAA's main drone safety regulations. Now, BNSF Railroad says it's using drones to inspect 2,000 miles of track.
  • Oversee workers -- Drones can observe from a better vantage point than traditionally used surveillance cameras. The Union Pacific Railroad started watching workers from above with drones in December of 2017. The workers had been monitored previously by cameras; however, the railroad workers union stated that drone surveillance is a different type of oversight than stationary camera surveillance. Drones, the union stated, create new concerns such as distracting workers while they are performing dangerous procedures rather than helping keep workers safe.

Would you want to be watched from afar while you are at work? What kinds of safety or privacy issues do you think these actions raise?

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