We talk about why inspectors should be using drones all the time, but in this post we will be sharing a few stories to highlight why this is such an important topic. Another thing that I intend to discuss in this post is the difference between Duty and Standard of Care since this is another thing that usually comes up in my discussion with home inspectors. There are two stories that I will be telling in this post, one involves an inspector in my local area, the other involves an interaction that we recently had in Las Vegas while we were at the ASHI Inspector World conference.
“I HAVE A DRONE BUT WILL ONLY USE IT ON THE ROOFS THAT I FEEL ARE DANGEROUS”
This is something that I hear all the time. There are a lot of inspectors that say they are getting a drone just to use on the “unsafe” roofs, and there are some that have them, but will still walk a roof when it is a certain pitch. One thing that I always say is that there is no such thing as a safe roof, sure the lower pitch roofs may be easier to walk, however, it isn’t the roof that is the main issue. The shingle condition, sheathing condition, and ladder all can turn a “safe” roof into the last roof you walk. According to a study made by the CDC most ladder fatalities happen from falls of 10 feet or less  , and according to NIOSH more than 100 people die each year from ladder related falls . The five major causes are: Incorrect ladder extension, inappropriate ladder selection, insufficient ladder inspection, improper use, and lack of access to safety tools and information. I see lots of inspectors who fail to tie the ladder off and most don’t perform an inspection of the ladder before they use it. Another thing that we see is that inspectors fail to extend the ladder sufficiently above the gutter line. There are a lot of inspectors using a tool that they do not properly respect and some have never even taken a true ladder safety course. Ask any firefighter what kind of training they get in ladder safety, and I think you will find they have extensive training on this subject, however most inspectors do not. Using a tool improperly is always a bad thing and ladders are one of these tools that are mishandled and the injury/death statistics reflect this fact.
Now I promised you some stories, so here they are. I have heard stories like this many times in my years working around home inspectors but what is different with this one is that the inspector owned a drone. This inspector was performing his inspection at ranch house with a 3 and 12 pitch roof. Like he had done many times before, he decided it was a “safe” roof to walk and climbed up without a second thought. Now remember, this wasn’t that steep of a roof so his inspection of this roof wasn’t difficult. The problem was, like all roofs, the danger is the transition from ladder to roof and roof to ladder. He doesn’t really know what happened because it happened so fast (and usually does) but the next thing he knows he is on the ground. He suffered a concussion and possibly even a cracked skull, and even though it could have been worse, it was still pretty bad. Not only was he now incurring medical bills but he wasn’t doing inspections (which means no revenue). Like I said, I have heard stories like this frequently, they usually have the comment “I don’t know what happened but next thing I know I am falling (or on the ground)”. It didn’t have to happen, with the drone the inspection would have been done with no risk of injury. He could have used the drone and still put a ladder up to the gutter and inspected without ever getting on the roof. Every time something like this happens, there is a risk that you don’t get so lucky.
“I AIN’T SCARED OF NO ROOF”
While we were at IW23 in Las Vegas recently, we had two inspectors come up to our booth. The younger inspector was asking my Dad (a home inspector of over 30 years) about using a drone to inspect a roof and while they were having this discussion, an older inspector came up and began really arguing about the need to walk a roof. It was good natured as it usually is, but at one point the older inspector lifts up his pant leg and shows that he has a prosthetic leg. My Dad asks him “How did that happen?” to which he responded “Well, I fell off a roof and broke my leg in a few places and the injury caused an infection that required them to remove my leg…..but I still walk roofs all the time!” The younger inspector’s eyes got huge and it was pretty obvious that this guy’s story hadn’t really convinced him about the merits of walking a roof, in fact, the younger inspector decided to buy a drone as a result of that conversation. The older inspector even admitted that walking a roof wasn’t safe, while still saying that it was still the best way to do it. The interaction with the older inspector is also fairly common, I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken to inspectors in casts, on crutches, or have told me horror stories about their injuries, while still almost bragging about the fact that they walk roofs and will continue to do so, like its a badge of honor. Please, do not mistake me, I am not trying to shame anyone or disparage their method of inspecting, but what I have noticed is that the younger inspectors do not have this same attitude. Usually, the younger inspectors are looking for ways to not get on the roof because they understand the danger and don’t want to risk the serious injuries. What this tells me is that in the very near future, more and more inspectors will be using drones instead of getting onto a roof.
Duty of Care vs. Standard of Care
As home inspectors it is important to know the difference between duty and standard of care. So what is duty of care? Duty of care is the Duty of the inspector to follow all of his/her standards of practice. If the state you are inspecting in has a licensing program, you are required to follow all regulations and standards under that requirement first. If you are a member of a professional organization such as ASHI or NACHI you are required to perform the inspection in accordance with those as well (in the event of a conflict your state’s standards take precedence). The only way things change in regards to the how you inspect is if these standards change, which does not happen very often. Keep in mind though that as the inspector you will be responsible for keeping up to date on these standards.
What is Standard of Care? Standard of care is determined by the industry. For instance, if it is common practice for other professionals in your industry to do something a certain way, then the standard of care says that you should be doing it as well, even if it goes above and beyond your duty of care. An example of this is walking on a roof. When you look at most standards of practice their language is very similar. ASHI says you shall inspect the readily accessible, visually observable, installed systems and components and describe the materials and method of inspection. It actually even states that the inspector is not required to inspect areas that the inspector deems to be dangerous or cause damage. NACHI even states that you SHALL inspect roof from GROUND LEVEL OR THE EAVES. Here in Ohio the state standards are almost identical to the ASHI standards, which means even if you are inspecting in Ohio you are not required to walk a roof, yet most inspectors do it that way. The biggest thing about Duty and standard of care is that one you are required to do (duty), the other you are not (standard). I have even had inspectors tell me that they have to walk a roof because that is the standard of care, but as we discussed earlier, the standard of care can change. As I mentioned previously, younger inspectors are not gung-ho about climbing on a roof and are actively seeking ways to avoid it by using drones. Because of this, in the very near future, you may notice that the Standard of Care will be the use of a drone to inspect the roof. The sooner this happens the lower the inspector injury numbers will be, so why not start now?
I certainly don’t expect to convince everyone to rely on the drone and in some areas you may not be able to fly due to airspace or weather, but with tools like the Eye Stick there are plenty of alternatives to risking your health and safety for an inspection. While I would never tell anyone to do something that I do not absolutely believe in, I also don’t expect anyone to just take my word on something either. Do what we did, get the drone, use it to capture the roof images, and then do it the way you normally would inspect and then compare. My Dad was not quick to trust the technology either, but after 2 months of looking at the difference between what the drone saw and what he saw, he came to the conclusion that the drone was the better way. Keep in mind that digital cameras are able to capture images far beyond what the human eye can see due to their sophisticated sensors and lenses. Sensors in digital cameras are designed to detect electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum, but they can also detect light outside of this range, such as ultraviolet and infrared light. With the use of filters, digital cameras can capture and display these invisible wavelengths, allowing us to see things that we may not be able to with our eyes.
I believe that any inspector that has the right drone, uses it properly, and gives it a real honest shot, will come to the same conclusion. Another alternative is to use the drone to inspect the roof, and then do an inspection from the eaves if you feel for a close up view. This is still safer than getting on and off the roof because that is the most dangerous part. One of our missions here at the Drone Hangar is to reduce the amount of injuries in the home inspection industry, and we hope to one day have the number of inspectors falling off of roofs down to 0 (if we could get it down to single digits that would be good too), and drone technology (or alternatives) is how this can happen.