Field Test-Based UAS Operational Procedures and Considerations for Construction Safety Management: A Qualitative Exploratory Study


Current studies have focused on the exploration of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) applications in the construction and infrastructure domains, such as progress monitoring, condition inspections, and particularly safety inspection. While their works have had significant contributions to highlighting the potential of the UAS technology, there are still gaps in the lack of operational considerations and workflows established to integrate the UAS into the current safety management program. To fill this gap, this study conducted field tests at commercial building construction worksite by adopting conceptually developed UAS flight protocol. A total of eight flights were performed to collect visual assets and provide for safety professionals at the jobsite with the insight of how this technology can be utilized in accordance with the developed workflow. A total of eight project personnel participated in the UAS flight test at their jobsite as well as post-flight interview to discuss how this technology can meet their safety management task goals. As the qualitative study, this paper narratively described the conceptual procedures consist of three different decision-making processes for ensuring the safe flight of the UAS: pre-flight, flight, and post-flight decision makings. Based on the potential users’ perceptions obtained during the field testing, this presented study focused on three different operational considerations: involving project-based, UAS’s capability and hardware specifications and UAS and project team-based aspects. The main goal of this study proposes a decision-driven workflow for UAS-integrated safety management that encourages sustainable and continuous improvement and documents the operational considerations related to this application. As the qualitative exploratory study, this research is limited to employ only one test-bed environment and the small number of interviewees. However, this study can contribute to a better understanding of the concerns, processes, and further recommendations to safely and effectively implement the UAS into the construction safety management program.

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This research was funded by Unilever Inc., Grant No. 4956643. The research team acknowledges the valuable participation of the project owner (Unilever Inc.) and general contractor (Whiting-Turner Contractor Company).


The content of this paper includes (1) field testing protocol to simulate the UAS-based safety management process in the construction worksite, (2) conceptual procedures (workflow) for UAS-integrated construction safety management, as well as (3) test-based operational considerations for sustainable and continuous improvement of the application. The findings are very significant contributions because the previous studies have only focused on the proof of concept of the UAS safety inspection or exploring the applicability or feasibility of this concept as a safety inspection tool. Based on the field testing and interview with industry experts who participated in the test process, this study presented three main considerations; (1) project background-based; (3) UAS capability-based; (3) project and UAS team-based considerations. This research presented a conceptual decision-making loop for UAS-integrated safety management. Also, lessons learned (implications), limitations of the study, further ideas, and recommendations are documented in this paper. This study can contribute to a better understanding of the researchers and practitioners to strengthen and broaden the body of knowledge and practices surrounding UAS applications in construction safety and health.

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Correspondence to Sungjin Kim.

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Kim, S., Irizarry, J. & Costa, D.B. Field Test-Based UAS Operational Procedures and Considerations for Construction Safety Management: A Qualitative Exploratory Study. Int J Civ Eng 18, 919–933 (2020).

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  • Unmanned aircraft system (UAS)
  • Construction safety management
  • Safety inspection
  • Field test
  • Operational considerations
  • Procedures