MSHA announced last week that its mine safety inspectors are joining the digital age. Goodbye, “general field notes” on lined paper? Hello, customized tablets.

MSHA says 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 eighteen 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 says 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.