Health & safety in working with drones

In 2015, Abandon Normal Devices came together with Marshmallow Laser Feast and the University of Salford to embark on a research project, titled Project Daedalus. The project looks at the emerging field of ‘drone cinema’. This research is an exciting opportunity to repurpose drones for creative control creating multi-user experiences and new audience environments. As part of our drone toolkit, here is a short health and safety guide in working with drones. Find out more about Abandon Normal Devices here

Any project involving drones carries risk. Drone propellers move extremely fast, and are sharp and dangerous. There are a number of things that can go wrong, as some high-profile recent cases have shown – for example, the ‘holiday’ drone flying a mistletoe spring around a crowd at TGI Friday’s that cut the nose of a customer, or Enrique Iglesias’ recent run-in on stage with a drone that cost the performer several stitches. A thorough understanding of the risks can help you take steps to avoid them.

What sort of things can go wrong with a drone?

  • Crash due to a mechanical/electronic failure, a loss of contact between the pilot’s ground control transmitter and receiver on the aircraft. It could also crash due to unsuitable weather conditions or pilot error.
  • The aircraft could `fly away’ if control is lost between the pilot’s ground control transmitter and receiver.
  • Crash into other aircraft or into into people or structures.

How do you avoid such risks? First and foremost, by engaging a registered, qualified, insured and experienced drone operator. While there is no pilot license in the UK for drones, the CAA does recognise some training centres. You can ensure that your operator is trained and that their insurance covers the costs of flying a UAS for performance or filming.

If you are the operator, you can train, learn, practice and ensure you are familiar with all the latest drone guidance, and have appropriate license and insurance if engaging in commercial flights.

General Controls

  • Ensure that the pilot is briefed very clearly on what you plan to achieve before agreeing to hire them as there are real limitations on what can be achieved with regards to flying times, distances, locations and licensing conditions. ‘Line of sight’ guidance must be observed unless explicit permission has been obtained from the CAA.
  • UASs must be flown in line of sight of the operator.
  • UASs cannot be flown at night, in classified air space and near airports.
  • Permission must be obtained from the owner of the take-off point.
  • UASs cannot be flown within 50 meters of structures, vehicles or people that are not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.
  • Cannot be flown within 150 meters of a congested area or a large crowd of people. In most public spaces, where people not in your control are present, you’re unlikely to be able to use a UAV.
  • The pilot must be in a position where they cannot be pushed or jostled.
  • As a general rule the UAS’s pilot should wholly concentrate on flying and a second operator or assistant should monitor / operate any onboard camera.


Crowd Controls:

If you are going to have drones at an event, special measures must be taken to notify and obtain consent from audience members (see here). Performance areas must be clearly demarcated so that drones fly a safe distance from people at all times.

There is detailed advice for planning a live performance in our CREATIVE PRODUCTION area. We have included risk assessments from our own drone events as a guide below:

Risk Assessment Lab

Risk Assessment Showcase

A3 ‘Fly Doorway’ sign

A3 two copies Flying Room Signage - green - AMEND-01