Mining Publication: Technology News 477 - A Systems Safety Approach for Programmable Electronics
For mining, programmable electronics (PE) is an emerging technology that enables new capabilities and flexibility. It also can create new hazards and/or worsen existing hazards. PE includes microprocessors, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and software. Using mine accident data compiled for 1994-1997 by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, we have identified nine incidents involving PE. We anticipate that fatalities, incidents, and near misses will increase as the quantity and complexity of PE increases with the industry's desire to remain competitive. NIOSH is taking a proactive position by generating functional safety recommendations for programmable electronics in mining. The recommendations take the form of a safety framework shaped by industry trends, MSHA accident data, and existing national and international standards. We are using a risk-based approach for the entire system, rather than just software or hardware. The approach makes safety a part of the early design, where changes are more effective and less disruptive, compared to implementing safety measures after many fatalities and injuries have occurred.