During its recent quarterly stakeholder call, the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a new “Fire Suppression Safety Initiative” (FSS) to ensure that fire suppression systems on mobile equipment are in working order and capable of extinguishing equipment fires. The initiative appears to involve educating operators about FSS, including proper inspections and maintenance, as well as stepping up related enforcement.

MSHA believes that a number of recent incidents involving mobile equipment fires highlight problems with FSS not working properly. MSHA is also concerned about equipment operators having a clear path of escape from burning equipment. MSHA asserted that “[i]t is the responsibility of mine operators to ensure that adequate and effective fire protection equipment, which includes fire suppression systems, is provided.  Also, it’s the responsibility of mine operators and miners to ensure that fire hazards on surface vehicles are adequately eliminated and/or mitigated.”

MSHA has posted a new web page on the initiative, including a detailed presentation on inspection fire suppression systems and a inspection checklist that may be used by MSHA inspectors for reviewing the systems and operator compliance.

What should mine operators expect and do?

MSHA asks mine operators and manufacturers to inspect equipment and develop means of escape. MSHA asks mine operators and equipment manufacturers to “develop and install evacuation methods that allow a miner to stay away from areas of the vehicle where, historically, fires have started.  Such areas include the engine and battery compartments and hydraulic hoses.” MSHA also asks that operators contact equipment manufacturers if necessary to be sure they have appropriate maintenance and inspection guidelines and to have the equipment inspected.

Examine your systems. Expect MSHA to do the same. With the initiative, MSHA put operators on notice that it expects them to inspect and maintain mobile FSS and that its inspectors will be looking at these systems on surface mining vehicles. They will check critical FSS components and look for proper installation and maintenance. “Fully compliant systems adhere to the requirements in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 17 and 17A (Standards for Dry and Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems), the system manufacturer’s recommendations, as well as 30 CFR.”

Get your training and records in order. MSHA will look for task training, refresher training, and maintenance records. MSHA calls for “adequate task training . . . so equipment operators and mechanics will be able to maintain equipment, respond correctly to alarms, use fire suppression systems properly, and safely dismount equipment in an emergency.  Mine operators should provide refresher training as needed.” Based on its inspection checklist, you can expect MSHA inspectors to ask you for:

  • Fire suppression system (FSS) owner’s manual.
  • FSS inspection report – within last 6 months.
  • An explanation of how the company does inspections.
  • Training records for personnel doing inspections.
  • The name and contact information for the mine’s Ansul representative that performs maintenance.

When asked during its recent stakeholder call, MSHA left open the possibility that it might create new regulations to address this issue. In the meantime, key regulations that apply include:

  • §77.404(a): “Mobile and stationary machinery and equipment shall be maintained in safe operating condition and machinery or equipment in unsafe condition shall be removed from service immediately.”
  • §77.404(b): “Machinery and equipment shall be operated only by persons trained in the use of and authorized to operate such machinery or equipment.”
  • §56.4201:  Requires inspection of firefighting equipment according to determined schedules.
    • (a)(5): “Fire suppression systems shall be inspected at least once every twelve months. An inspection schedule based on the manufacturer’s specifications or the equivalent shall be established for individual components of a system and followed to determine that the system remains functional. Surface fire suppression systems are exempt from these inspection requirements if the systems are used solely for the protection of property and no persons would be affected by a fire.”
    • (b): “At the completion of each inspection or test required by this standard, the person making the inspection or test shall certify that the inspection or test has been made and the date on which it was made. Certifications of hydrostatic testing shall be retained until the fire extinguisher is retested or permanently removed from service. Other certifications shall be retained for one year.”
  • §56.4230: Requires fire extinguishers, or fire suppression systems as alternatives, on self-propelled mobile equipment whenever fire could impede operator escape.
    • (b): “A fire suppression system may be used as an alternative to fire extinguishers if the system can be manually activated.”
    • (c): “Fire extinguishers or fire suppression systems shall be of a type and size that can extinguish fires of any class in their early stages which could originate from the equipment’s inherent fire hazards. Fire extinguishers or manual actuators for the suppression system shall be located to permit their use by persons whose escape could be impeded by fire.”

Are you ready for more scrutiny of your fire suppression systems? We can help you prepare. If you have questions about how to comply, please contact Avi Meyerstein, Brian Hendrix, Donna Pryor, or Erik Dullea.