By: Nicholas W. Scala and Daniel Deacon
On January 14, 2020, the Mine Safety and Health Administration published a Direct Final Rule revising certain safety standards regarding explosive materials at Metal and Nonmetal (M/NM) mines – specifically relating to the use of electronic detonators. The direct rule will become effective on March 16, 2020, “unless substantive adverse comments* are received or postmarked by midnight Eastern Standard Time on February 13, 2020. If adverse comment is received, MSHA will publish a timely withdrawal of the rule in the Federal Register.”
A concurrent Proposed Rule was published in the Federal Register to speed up notice and comment rulemaking should the agency decide to withdraw the direct rule. However, all interested parties who wish to comment should comment at this time “because MSHA does not anticipate initiating an additional comment period.”
Background of Rule
As part of Assistant Secretary Zatezalo’s continued push to embrace technological advancements in the mining industry, MSHA seeks to update an aging regulation to include reference to modern systems. MSHA for the most part has utilized the same definition for detonators since 1979 – with the exception of a minor modification in 1991. The standards have defined “detonators to mean any device containing a detonating charge that is used to initiate an explosive such as electric blasting caps and non-electrical instantaneous or delay blasting caps.” MSHA anticipated that the existing definition would continue to cover new developments in detonator technology but has not found that to be the case given advancements in computer and micro-processing technologies – which have led to the development of “electronic” detonators.
Historically, MSHA’s standards have included only two types of detonators in the definition: non-electric (includes devices such as detonating cords, shock-tube or safety fuse detonators, or a combination of these), or electric (uses electrical currents to initiate detonation).
The addition of electronic detonators (designed to use electronic components to transmit a firing signal with validated commands and secure communications to each detonator, and a detonator cannot be initiated by other means) will serve to update the regulations to include what is at this point the is the technology in use by the majority of operations.
On September 28, 2004, MSHA issued Program Information Bulletin (PIB) No. P04-20, Electronic Detonators and Requirements for Shunting and Circuit Testing. The PIB discussed how to rectify MSHA requirements on shunting and circuit testing with the advanced electronic detonators. During its review of electronic detonators, MSHA found that the systems contained internal safeguards for shunting and circuit testing and that these systems satisfy MSHA regulation as long as the manufacturer instructions are followed.
In 2018, MSHA requested comments from industry stakeholders on which existing regulation(s) should be repealed, replaced, or modified without reducing miners’ safety and health. The changes proposed in this direct rule were largely the result of comments from the Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME), which requested that MSHA update its regulations to recognize the significant developments in safety and sophistication offered by electronic detonators. Continue reading