The Army’s Role in Monitoring the Safe Use of ExplosivesMon, 10/21/2013 - 11:57
Using explosives is essential in underground and open pit mining, but following the laws that control their use and applications is just as relevant. “It is extremely important for mining companies to have an in-depth knowledge of the regulatory framework that governs the industry. If they are not familiar with the legal environment they can commit errors that will endanger the continuity of their operations.” says Major Francisco Alcaraz, from the General Directorate of Federal Firearms Registration and Explosives Control at Mexico’s Ministry of National Defense. The role of the Ministry of National Defense is to monitor that the mining industry is properly using and storing explosive material in order to guarantee the safety of workers and civilians, as well as to preserve the environment. Another objective is to ensure that companies take the appropriate security measures to avoid explosives’ thefts that could translate into security risks if the material is then used illegally.
The Ministry is constantly supervising the use of explosives in industrial activities, and deploys biannual vigilance programs that consist of visiting mining sites that use explosives, to evaluate their security and technical capacities. In order to operate legally, mining companies must obtain one of two different types of permits, depending on their needs. The first one is for the purchase, storage and consumption of explosives, as is the case of companies that store explosives in powder kegs. The other is a purchase and consumption permit for the direct use of explosives without the need of storing them. The obtainment of permits is based on various applicable laws, including the Federal Explosives and Firearms Law, the Foreign Investment Law, and the General Law of Mercantile Corporations. “When mining companies get these permits they are able to operate under a legal regime, and work without any further complications,” says Captain Juan de Dios García, who also pertains to the General Directorate. In order to become eligible to legally use explosive materials for industrial purposes, mining companies have to comply with a number of standards. Regarding transportation, mining companies have to make sure they are using adequate vehicles, certified by the Ministry of Communications and Transport and by the Ministry of National Defense. They must also guarantee the use of private armed escorts to guard the load until it reaches the mine site. Regarding the use of explosives, companies have to perform their blast at a certain distance from populated areas and civil infrastructure. For this reason, companies also need authorization from local and state governments. Companies also need to guarantee they have safe facilities to store explosive material, and high security measures to avoid subtraction. Other basic requirements for companies are proof of identity as title holders of the mining concession, and justification for the use of the explosive material. Permit formats also have to be validated by the General Coordination of Mining.
The main transgression of the law by mining companies comes from inadequate measures taken to store explosive material. This means that they complied neither with the technical nor physical security measures. The warehouses must have an alarm, monitoring systems, and vigilance staff to avoid any type of theft. When there is an infringement of the law, companies will be sanctioned depending on the severity of the infraction. They can receive monetary fines, but their operational permits can also be temporarily revoked or even canceled. “Article 43 of the Federal Explosives and Firearms Law points out that we have the prerogative to suspend or cancel permits whenever people or facilities are endangered. However, our job is to guide companies so that this does not happen,” Major Alcaraz explains. Usually, if a company has not taken the adequate measures to guarantee security, control and vigilance of explosives, its activities will be suspended but not revoked. Once the company informs the authority that the safety and security irregularities have been resolved, an inspector will visit the mining site to reactivate the respective permits. Permit cancelation is something very unusual and only takes place when companies do not comply at all with the control and vigilance measures required by the Ministry of National Defense or when they consistently fail to revalidate their permits.
The control and vigilance of industrial operations will change as innovation introduces new products and blasting techniques. “In spite of the changes that could be made to the current normativity that controls the mining sector regarding the use and storage of explosives, we consider our industrial competitiveness will not be lowered,” Major Alcaraz comments. “The government is working hard to establish adequate laws that promote the growth of the industry and attract more foreign investment to the country every day,” Captain García highlights.