January 16, 2020

MSHA to Revise Standards for Explosives at Metal and Nonmetal Mines

A direct final rule published by MSHA on Tuesday revises the agency’s safety standards for explosives at metal and nonmetal mines. According to MSHA, the rule is intended to update existing provisions consistent with technological advancements involving electronic detonators. This rulemaking was prompted by comments MSHA received from the Institute of Makers of Explosives in 2018 in response to the agency’s request for stakeholders’ assistance in identifying existing regulations that could be repealed, replaced, or modified without reducing miners' safety or health. IME requested that MSHA modernize its standards to address electronic detonators, stating that electronic detonators have been used in mining for more than 20 years and provide a “sophisticated level of safety and security.”

According to MSHA, the three types of detonators primarily used in blasting operations in metal and nonmetal mines are non-electric, electric, and electronic detonators. Non-electric detonators are designed to initiate explosions without the use of electric wires; electric detonators use electrical currents to initiate detonation; and electronic detonator systems 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.

“For those electronic detonators that the agency has reviewed, MSHA agrees with IME that electronic detonators provide a working environment that is as safe or safer for miners compared to non-electric and electric detonators because they provide for greater control of a blast,” the Federal Register notice reads. “MSHA believes that recognizing electronic detonator systems as distinct from electric detonators will eliminate confusion over certain regulatory requirements.”

MSHA’s revisions affect certain existing standards in 30 CFR parts 56 and 57, which cover safety and health standards at surface and underground metal and nonmetal mines, respectively. The final rule modifies the definition of “detonator” in sections 56.6000 and 57.6000 and makes changes to other sections related to the misfire waiting period, circuit testing, and precautions during storms. MSHA is amending certain portions of the explosives standards to include electronic detonators.

The direct final rule is set to take effect on March 16, 2020, unless MSHA receives “substantive adverse comments” by Feb. 13. The agency has also published a proposed rule for notice and comment to provide a procedural framework to finalize the rule if adverse comments lead MSHA to withdraw the direct final rule.

More information about the rulemaking is available on MSHA’s website.