How to Stay Current With Licensing to Ensure Continued Operations.
By Dr. Anthony Konya
In the United States, being a lead blaster on a project requires a license that is granted by each individual state, among many other permits and possible licenses. In some jurisdictions, cities and municipalities will require additional licensure. In this article, the discussion will be focusing on general state licensure for blasters, the typical requirements, and how to stay current with licensing to ensure continued operations for the critical activity of blasting at mines and construction projects.
In general, two types of licensing activities exist in the industry, new blasters that do not currently have a license and blasters that already have licensure in a state and are seeking to either renew the license with their current state or to get a license in a state where they previously have not been licensed.
This article will take a general look at all three of the current standards. Many state agencies have pushed back the deadlines, extending the periods that blasters licensing is effective, as the renewals during this time can provide challenges not normally faced. Please note that this article will discuss, in general, the licensing requirements and what some state regulators have done to help blasters during COVID-19, each reader should check with the relevant state agency to obtain what the specific state is requiring and what has been implemented.
The licensing of a blaster typically requires a combination of successful completion of a background check, work experience, related training, and completion of a state-specific test. The work experience typically requires working with explosive crews under a licensed blaster with a number of states requiring between 1,000 and 2,000 hours of work experience.
This work experience is to ensure that blasts have a hands-on, practical experience and have actually worked with explosives in the field and have been mentored by a professional blaster. This is one of the most critical portions to licensing as many great lessons are taught in the field.
The background check required by many state licensures is similar in nature to the ATF employee possessor background check. While some states only require that this process be completed to initially obtain licensure, other states require a new background check to be processed for each license renewal. License renewals are required, typically, every one to three years.
This can present challenges as some states are currently not running the various background check systems. This should be checked on a state-by-state basis but is one of the many reasons many states have postponed the expiration dates for licensing that are due to expire during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
The training requirement varies heavily by the state and typically requires between 24 hours to 40 hours of training. Some states have state-run training events where the licensing division holds training, while others rely on the employer to complete training either in-house, through conferences such as the International Society of Explosive Engineers or the MSHA Blaster’s Training Workshop, or through independent training groups such as the Academy of Blasting and Explosive Technology.
The training programs must be approved by the state agency and most state agencies have a listing of available training that can be provided. The completion of training hours, in light of social distancing, has become a challenge with most in-person training events for 2020 cancelled.
Recently, states have begun evaluating online training for blasters to supplement the classroom training and with COVID-19 serve as a method for blasters to get training hours with in-person events cancelled. The first online blasting course has now been approved, which is titled Basics of Blasting, and can be found at AcademyBlasting.com.
This course has been accepted by numerous state regulators already for between 4 to 5 hours of continuing education. While this does not fill the need for the 24 to 40 hours of training for new blasters, it does provide blasters looking for renewal of licensing the opportunity to acquire the needed hours. Licensing renewal typically requires between 8 to 24 hours of training every one to three years; with many blasters aiming to acquire around 8 hours of training per year. Academy Blasting is also in the process of developing and launching additional online training courses and programs.
The testing of new blasters, either those who have never held a license or those seeking reciprocity from a license held in one state to another is another challenging dilemma that blasters and state regulators are working to solve. Many states have moved to a one-on-one testing approach with one regulator and one blaster in a room at a time to limit exposure and ensure proper social distancing procedures. This is typically only available for emergency situations, for example when a critical construction project needs to bring in a blaster from another state. In many cases the blasters testing for non-critical cases have been postponed and anyone seeking licensure during this time should directly contact the state regulator to determine the exact states policies and procedures, in many cases an explanation of the situation to the state regulators can help determine possible solutions.
COVID-19 has presented many unique challenges to the world including the licensing and continued licensing of blasters which are essential employees, who keep roadways open and mines mining. State regulators have picked up the torch and have been working hard to develop many unique solutions to help blasters including delaying license expiration and allowing online training toward continuing education hours.
If you are a blaster looking to get or continue licensure, the author would recommend getting as many, if not all, the requirements completed toward the license process including the employment verification and training requirements. Then seeking guidance from the individual state regulator for testing, background check, or other processes.
Most importantly, remember throughout the licensing process and your career in the industry to ensure that you remain safe, limit your exposure to risks, and work with the state regulators to tackle any problems that arise.
Dr. Anthony Konya is the vice president of Precision Blasting Service. He can be reached at 440-823-2263, or [email protected].