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The Quality Assurance and Materials Testing Division (QA&MTD) of the Approval and Certification Center (A&CC) has two major program responsibilities. The first is the quality assurance function for which the Division is responsible for administering programs to assure the integrity of approvals issued by the A&CC. The second is the materials testing function which involves conducting investigations of explosives and various materials used in the mining industry. It also investigates the flammability properties of materials such as conveyor belting, hydraulic fluids, power cables and brattice products including curtains and ventilation tubing.

The quality assurance program has three major components: Product Quality Assurance, Resolution of Field Complaints, and the prototype Voluntary / Compliance Assistance Partnership Programs.

Product Quality Assurance Programs are designed to (1) identify MSHA-approved products that are out of compliance with the requirements of Title 30 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), (2) assess the impact of these products on the mining industry, (3) take suitable action to protect the safety of miners, and (4) required implementation of quality assurance programs to prevent reoccurrence of out-of-compliance products.

Out-of-compliance products are most often identified through established audit programs. Annually, approximately 750 MSHA-approved products are audited at mine site warehouses, distributors and manufacturers located nationwide. Products are randomly selected from MSHA-approved, certified, accepted, and evaluated products representing approximately 100 different product lines. Audits are conducted on both new and repaired MSHA-approved products. Audits are also conducted in accordance with the post-approval product audit requirements for products approved under Title 30 CFR, Part 7, Testing by Applicant or Third Party.

The Division assesses hazards related to out-of-compliance products and mandates corrective action to address products in the field. The assessment team includes personnel from the QAD and technical experts from other divisions within the A&CC. This results in a more unbiased assessment of the degree of hazard caused by an out-of-compliance product. It also assures that the corrective actions address the technical and administrative aspects of the federal regulations and the concepts of quality assurance. Hazard assessment is made by categorizing the out-of-compliance characteristics into four defined defect classifications: Critical, Major 1, Major 2, and Minor. The corrective action required is based on the seriousness of the classification. Examples of corrective actions are: (1) updating approval documents, (2) recall and retrofit of the product, and (3) approval rescission. The QAD provides information on products with significant problems to coal mine operators and MSHA enforcement personnel in the form of Agency Program Information Bulletins. These bulletins describe those critical characteristics identified as out of compliance with the appropriate Federal regulation in addition to the mandated corrective actions. Manufacturers identified as producing out-of-compliance products are required to review their manufacturing process and process controls to establish the cause of the problem. They are also required to develop Quality Control Manuals and Factory Inspection Forms to prevent reoccurrence of the problem. The QAD may require a manufacturer to submit inspection reports of all current inventory and future production of an MSHA-approved product until such time as the manufacturer has established a level of confidence that assures his product will be manufactured in compliance with the appropriate Federal regulations. Division personnel also conduct manufacturing site reviews and provide assistance in the development of quality assurance programs to manufacturers identified as producing out-of-compliance products.

It is the practice of the Approval and Certification Center to recognize approval-holders as "licensees" under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Consistent with this practice, the approval-holder of a discrepant product is accorded certain protection prior to the revocation of an approval. These include being provided with:

  1. A written notice of the Center's intent to revoke a product approval, with an explanation of the reasons for the proposed revocation,
  2. an opportunity to demonstrate or achieve compliance with the technical requirements for approval, and
  3. the opportunity for a hearing upon request.

Also, in accord with the APA, the Center may suspend an approval without prior notification to the approval holders, if a product poses an imminent hazard to the safety or health of the miners. Under such circumstances, an approval may be suspended immediately to protect the safety and health of any affected miners. Upon suspension of an approval, the product is no longer approved and the Center will require mine operators to withdraw the product from use during the course of suspension. The Center will also immediately advise the approval-holder of suspension so effective corrective action can begin as soon as possible. An important part of the Product Quality Assurance Program is the Quality Assurance Tracking System (QUATS). The QUATS program utilizes data input from all QAD audit programs to identify product lines and manufacturers that have established a history of being out of compliance.

Field Complaints initiated by manufacturers, mine operators, representatives of miners, State or Federal inspectors or other interested individuals, provide an additional mechanism to identify compliance problems. Field complaints often identify quality problems related to construction, performance, and reliability with respect to the product approval requirements of Title 30 CFR. Field complaints often have legal implications. In these cases it is necessary for Division personnel to closely coordinate investigation activities with investigators from the MSHA Office of Special Investigations at headquarters and CMS&H enforcement personnel. Field complaints will follow many of the administrative and investigation procedures of the product audit programs. Most field complaints will result in one or more directed audit activities. In cases where cause can be shown a further action including Manufacturing Process Review or institution of a Quality Control Plan will be required. Investigation of a field complaint will typically require a special investigation plan be developed and coordinated with enforcement personnel or other interested parties.

In support of its mission to investigate flammability properties of mining materials, the Division establishes, revises, and implements approval programs, criteria, test procedures and techniques. The Division also develops and proposes new or revised Federal regulations. Engineering projects within the Division involve both laboratory and field investigations. The Division is obligated to maintain expert knowledge of advancing technology. This is necessary to enable Division personnel to conduct evaluations of modern and unique products, provide consulting services on research contracts, and serve on Technical Committees.

Technical assistance is routinely provided to the field in the areas of fire protection, industrial safety and related areas. Fire protection services include the evaluation of new or novel fire suppression and detection systems to determine compliance with applicable sections of 30 CFR, assistance in the design of fire protection systems for underground shops, storage and conveyor belt drive areas and training to MSHA inspectors and industry.

The Division also participates in accident investigations and provides field, laboratory and expert witness services. With respect to laboratory services, the Division maintains a forensic laboratory designed to perform testing and evaluation on evidence obtained during fire and explosion investigations conducted by the Agency and other Federal Agencies for the purpose of determining the potential cause and origin.

Other areas of Division responsible include: investigation of equipment involved in mine fires and explosions establishment of product design and performance standards or approval criteria; laboratory evaluations and participation in the regulatory promulgation processes from a technical standpoint.

For more information about the Quality Assurance and Materials Testing Division, please contact us at 304-547-0400
or zzMSHA-TecSupA&CCQAMTDChiefGroup@dol.gov.