Thames Water's eye in the sky proves its worth

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  • Drones reduce need for working at height
  • Savings could be as much as £95k each time they are used
  • New innovation satisfies demands of safety inspectors

For Thames Water’s health and safety team, their new fleet of drones represents nothing less than a ‘gamechanger’.

That’s the view of Carol Moore, the company’s head of safety, health and wellbeing training and statutory compliance.

“The great benefit they bring is that they enable us to inspect cranes and other equipment at height without putting people into potentially hazardous situations,” she said.

And there’s a cost benefit too. “To get scaffolding around a crane so it can be inspected costs between £10k and £12k every year,” she said. “For a digester it can be as high as between £75k and £90k every time it needs inspecting.”

In the summer, the drone was used in a trial at Abbey Mills pumping station to see if the images it produced were of sufficient quality to satisfy insurance inspectors and the Health and Safety Executive. “We found that the HSE was satisfied,” said Carol. “It means we can’t rule out human inspections totally but they can be used in three out of every four years, for example.”

And with around 100 cranes that need inspecting every year, it’s clear her hopes of a whole fleet of drones are fully justified.

“Cranes are just the start,” she said. “We want the thermal imaging cameras we can attach to the drones to test for leakage in the trunk mains and our Infrastructure Alliance will find it useful for reservoir inspections, leaks, bursts, roof inspections and aerators – if you see bubbles from the air, that means diffused aeration. In slow sand filter beds, you’re looking for discolouration.”

Thames Water’s trials with the drones have started to pique the interest of other water companies. “I did a demo for water companies in the south,” said the company's drone pilot Jon Lorimer. "We are definitely setting a trend in the UK.”