4site surveys with drones

Drones removing danger: Sunday Business Post 17th Feb 2019

Dave Healy 4site HSEQ ManagerBy Dave Healy, Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Manager, 4site

This article was published in the Sunday Business Post on the 17th Feb 2019.

Drones may have been received a lot of negative publicity recently due to incidents at Gatwick Airport, we have found this technology to be absolutely invaluable to our business. At 4site, our 80 highly skilled professionals design, survey, build and maintain world-class fibre and wireless telecommunications networks across Ireland, the UK and further afield. This involves surveying acres of land on a daily basis and creating innovative engineering solutions to ensure the delivery of significant major infrastructural developments.


As you can imagine, surveying a landscape can be fraught with difficulties. Inaccessible locations, roof top sites and mountainous terrain can make it very challenging for our team to inspect these settings every day – often in harsh conditions. Now, however, thanks to drone technology, we can engage in this activity in a more time and cost-efficient manner, while also ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our team.


Using drones, we can now get a bird’s eye view of any area we are surveying. We can deploy the drone easily and adjust its height and camera angles remotely and, within minutes, we can capture a 360-degree panoramic video, a plan view of the site and its access route.

Site views of locations that would have been impossible using traditional methods are now easily captured in a few minutes. We then process the feed from the video and output reports for use by the design engineers back in the office.


The lay of the land, potential challenges, best access routes, valuable data, potential planning issues are all relayed accurately and efficiently. Drones can also quickly highlight a solution that wasn’t obvious from ground level and for the builders, it contributes to safety by knowing what hazards may lie ahead. For instance, assessing the condition of a rooftop prior to access is significant.


Drones are proving to be particularly useful when it comes to bringing high speed broadband to rural areas or settings not well served with communications infrastructure. When mapping out a route to connect populated areas into an existing main fibre trunk for example, we use drones to fly along predetermined routes across sections of farmland. We can then determine any potential obstacles, like trees or overhead services.


When designing brand new infrastructure builds, we conduct Visual Impact (VI) surveys and the drone is used to good effect to determine any potential visual impact issues that might arise for the planning department when dealing with sensitive sites. VI surveys help us ensure potential issues are dealt with at design stage and the planning department doesn’t run into unexpected objections. Ensuring that we get the detail right at the survey stage is critical to saving costs, time and revisits at the build stage of fibre roll out programmes, and drones contribute significantly to getting that detail right.


Given the nature of our business, 4site climbers often work at the very bottom of what’s known in the Health and Safety business as the ‘Hierarchy of Control’, meaning they are relying on ‘Fall Arrest Personal Protective Equipment’ when climbing towers or on ‘Fall Restraint’ devices when accessing rooftops.


Working at height requires two ‘Rescue Trained’ climbers to access a tower, while in the case of a line of sight survey, we may have four climbers working at height. The use of drones for surveying is eliminating the need for climbing on most telecoms’ structures, bringing us back to the top of the Hierarchy of Control – which is the elimination of the hazard altogether.


As designers, 4site must take account of the ‘General Principles of Prevention’, a more detailed hierarchy of risk elimination and reduction.

Two of these principles apply to 4site’s use of Drones:

  • Adapt the place of work to technical progress
  • Replace dangerous articles, substances, or systems of work by non-dangerous or less dangerous articles, substances, or systems.


The use of drones and camera technology make for a safer work place and the use of drones is a safer system of work than climbers working at height. Having said that, there are still a lot of sites that require a more human touch so our highly skilled climbers can’t hang up their harnesses just yet.


Looking ahead, we are working towards using drones to map areas using RTK GPS technology which will add to data collection capability and the accuracy of the data collected over wider distances. Image processing developments will impact our work in BIM (Building Information Modelling) allowing the drone output to enhance creation of BIM models of buildings, sites and even as built BIM models of towers.


As well as being very excited about how we can utilise drone technology to help us design and build our networks, we are also delighted that they contribute to the increased safety of our team. It’s a win win situation for everyone.



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