Recommendations and Actions
Since 1912, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and its predecessor agencies have regulated certain specified mining products (equipment, components, materials, and explosives) by setting standards, reviewing manufacturers' designs for conformance with those standards, and issuing approvals for equipment to be used in mines.(1)
Originally, MSHA and its predecessor agencies assumed responsibility for in-house testing and evaluations because, at the time, mining technology was still quite new and the industry did not have the testing capability or knowledge to conduct the evaluations. In addition, at this early stage, only the prototype design of a product submitted to MSHA was tested for safety and, therefore, no mechanism was in place to ensure that products supplied for use in the field had been manufactured as approved.
Today, through its Approval and Certification Center (ACC), MSHA continues to evaluate and test the safety factors of products intended for use in coal mines and gassy, non-coal mines. However, due to more pressing program commitments, the expertise of ACC in areas of new technology has lagged. As a result, the agency has been unable to maintain its position at the forefront of mining technology. For this reason, when required to evaluate new technology submitted for approval, MSHA must first acquire the technology necessary for the tests before proceeding to test whether the product can be safely introduced into mines. Because of the cumbersome nature of the existing regulations and the complexity of modern technology, this process is often quite time consuming. The lengthy approval process delays the introduction of new technology that may improve mine safety.
The approval regulations currently administered by MSHA are often inadequate to address modern technology and the demands of the industry. Recently, many industry and foreign government standards have been updated and are more appropriate to present needs. These standards focus on the importance of quality assurance in the manufacturing of safe products. MSHA has not been in a position to keep abreast of this trend. Additional cooperation with U.S. industry as well as with foreign government regulatory agencies would result in increased efficiency and savings for manufacturers of mining equipment.
1. MSHA should shift its regulatory role from in-house prototype testing to on-site quality assurance.
Recent experience shows that conducting product and manufacturing site audits, holding third-party testing site audits, and investigating field complaints provide greater assurances that safe products are supplied to the field than testing and prototype evaluation can. Therefore, MSHA should continue to explore shifting its role from primary tester and evaluator to establishing criteria for independent testing, overseeing evaluations, and conducting a more rigorous point-of-manufacture quality assurance investigation.
The keystone to this approach is a modified approval process. In time, this new process will place more responsibility for testing and certification on independent bodies operating under MSHA's oversight. Third-party testing has proven effective in other industries.2 This recommendation can be implemented through changes in existing DOL regulations.
2. MSHA's regulatory standards should be revised to harmonize with industry and international standards.
By reviewing industry and foreign government standards, MSHA can determine which existing standards, if any, will serve its needs. Total or partial adoption of existing standards and regulations from an appropriate source precludes the need for MSHA to reinvent the wheel. In addition, MSHA should adopt voluntary consensus standards when possible.
These changes will better define the role of government in mining equipment approval. By transferring testing and evaluation of products to others, MSHA can devote its resources to establishing rules and criteria for certain mining products; monitoring testing and evaluation done by others; evaluating hazards introduced by new technologies; and monitoring the quality of equipment and products shipped to mines. In addition to achieving a significant improvement in mine health and safety, MSHA will become increasingly proactive relative to new technologies. The result will be a more timely evaluation of mining equipment technology.
Furthermore, through this process, many products will be available for use in mines at a significantly reduced cost. MSHA staff express concern that the current approval system may deter some manufacturers from producing mining products because of the limited market. For example, obtaining MSHA approval may require the manufacturer to change product design in ways inconsistent with international standards. Considering the small market available in the mining industry, as well as the cost of possible revisions required for MSHA final approval, it is not profitable for many manufacturers to enter the mining equipment market.
The harmonization of MSHA standards with those of industry and foreign governments will allow manufacturers already in the market (as well as those who previously found the industry to be unprofitable) to compete in world markets by permitting a single, globally acceptable product line with better control of replacement parts, reduced manufacturing costs, and improved quality control.
Implementation of this new approach will permit the redirection of internal resources and provide an economic benefit to the industry. Resources currently being used to administer the approval and testing responsibilities at ACC will be redirected to expand the quality assurance activities to provide more adequate oversight and increased product safety.
The mining industry will benefit from the ability to design and manufacture a single product to serve multiple markets and applications. Expenditures for engineering and product development, manufacturing, tooling, and product testing and approval will be reduced, as will inventories of spare parts. Monetary savings to the mining industry will be measured in millions of dollars as the program grows to maturity. The savings resulting from internationally standardized approval requirements and the introduction of safer, state-of-the-art mining equipment on-site will produce continuing savings in lives and resources.
1. This authority is found at 30 C.F.R. 7-36.
2. Examples of third party testing include Underwriters Laboratories' evaluations of electrical appliances and Cornell University's automotive safety tests involving crash dummies.
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