According to Avi Meyerstein of the law firm Husch Blackwell’s Technology, Manufacturing & Transportation team, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced that its mine safety inspectors are joining the digital age. Goodbye, “general field notes” on lined paper. Hello, customized tablets.
MSHA said that it’s now starting to deploy the new system, which it calls the “Mobile Inspection Application System (Mobile IAS).” It soon expects to connect all of its nearly 1,500 mine inspectors and enforcement staff with the technology.
For the last 18 years, MSHA inspectors had to carry a multitude of tools: “bulky” laptops, cameras, legal and policy reference materials, and documentation. Now, a single tablet will combine and replace all of those functions in one device and application.
Of course, the goal is that they will also be easier to use and more secure. MSHA said the new system will “facilitate data capture and streamline the inspection process.”
“Enabling mine inspectors to work more efficiently means more time to focus on the health and safety of America’s miners,” said MSHA Assistant Secretary David G. Zatezalo. “MSHA’s Mobile IAS is expected to improve the quality of information by eliminating redundancy, and provide more timely information for inspectors.”
The new MSHA system includes:
- A Windows-based, semi-ruggedized tablet with camera, video, audio recording, touch screen, digital pen, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
- A custom application “with photo capture and fillable, pre-populated forms.”
- Efficient data transfer among devices and the MSHA Standardized Information System.
What Does This Mean For You?
For one thing, we should expect a learning curve. You may have to bear with inspectors as they put the new system through its paces and try to capture notes, photos, and maybe more during inspections.
No doubt, MSHA will provide significant training to its employees on using the new devices. But, rolling out new technology can be a bumpy road even in companies where the work force is accustomed to the latest high-tech gear. At MSHA, this may be a major upgrade.
Armed with these new tools, will inspectors try to record more photos, audio or video? Will the challenges of reading some inspectors’ handwriting on field notes be a thing of the past? Will MSHA be able to provide inspection files more quickly (when it’s willing to do so) before conferences and/or litigation?
If MSHA inspectors are like any other workforce, we should expect a wide range of user skills and adoption. Some will make full use of the new devices while others may struggle to do the bare minimum. The system will only be as good as its users, and the training and support they receive. But, if the tablets eventually do result in more efficient inspections, they could be a win for everyone.
Aggregates Operations Safer Than Retail Stores
According to the most current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is safer to work in a quarry than a retail store.
Preliminary estimates indicate that aggregates operations attained a new record low injury rate in 2017, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). This year’s rate is estimated at 1.74 per 200,000 hours worked, marking the 17th consecutive year that the rate improved. This translates to less than two reportable injuries for a workforce of 100 miners over the course of a year.
MSHA is expected to release the finalized figures in April.
The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) recently met with MSHA Administrator David Zatezalo, deputy secretaries and a senior advisor to discuss the aggregates industry’s demonstrated commitment to safety and compliance.
Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, NSSGA senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs, and Joseph Casper, NSSGA vice president of safety, expressed a desire to help update outdated equipment standards and communicate best practices on seat belt use and fall protection.
NSSGA reinforced the differences between coal and aggregates operations to Zatezalo, who recently acknowledged that the agency has typically been viewed as a coal-centric organization. Zatezalo reiterated his desire for uniform enforcement across aggregates operations. He cautioned that it will take time to bring about these kinds of reforms and that he wants to hear any legitimate concerns from stakeholders, personally.