Drones Could Enhance Safety at Chemical Plants

Dow Chemical hopes drones could eventually provide crucial safety services at its plants and take employees out of harm's way.

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Dow Chemical hopes drones could eventually provide crucial safety services at its plants and take employees out of harm's way.

The Michigan-based chemical giant, according to The Advocate, is one of about 250 companies to receive an exemption for commercial drone use from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA eased the exemption process last month amid complaints from Amazon.com, which saw one parcel drone design become obsolete while waiting for federal approval. Amazon later received an exemption, along with operators including drone manufacturers, universities and agricultural pesticide sprayers.

Dow, however, explicitly cited safety in its application for a drone exemption. The company said in a statement that the technology would eliminate the need for workers to inspect elevated structures.

Industry observers, meanwhile, speculated that sending drones with cameras or thermal sensors to inspect chemical facilities would be far more efficient. Workers would be far removed from 2,000-degree smokestacks, drones could check more frequently for potential equipment weaknesses and plants could avoid shutting down operations for inspections.

The pilot program is located in Baton Rouge; Dow has about 3,000 employees or contractors in Louisiana, which produces 25 percent of the nation's petrochemicals.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration attributed 18 fatal injuries to the chemical manufacturing industry in 2013.

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