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Avoiding surprises in coal testing: Rule #3

Published by
World Coal,

Sang Ho, Ventyx – and ABB Co., US, launches a search for the eureka moment in coal testing and inspection.

Rule 3: watch out for intentional malpractices

Whereas taking a whole-of-supply-chain approach to quality testing and inspection, as well as exercising the inspect-not-expect practice, are positive steps, they are not failsafe. The surprises in testing and inspection are often suppressed by hard-to-detect human factors: the intentional malpractices in the testing and inspection processes. Stories abound, from intentional contamination of coal during transportation, to leveraging special relationships with the testing companies, or a friendship between the inspector and the shiploader.

Without belabouring the various cases regarding trickeries used in the industry (e.g. laying the bottom of a rail car with inferior product during transportation), the author would just recite the following stories to illustrate the point.

A retired operations manager of a commercial testing laboratory once recalled a case where having just received the preliminary report from the lab, the client asked if he could lower the ash result by 0.5%. A very direct request, one would say, but it is easy to guess the rationale behind it. A 0.5% difference could translate to tens of thousands of penalties being avoided by the mining company. Of course, the manager flatly refused. Even had he been ethically challenged enough to try, the deception would have been identified anyway, as such an action would be logged in the LIMS audit trail with full details of the change.

Another example of intentional malpractice has been observed at a loading port. At the end of shiploading, the draught surveyor was seen to be soliciting the loaded tonnage from the ship loader, before ascending the vessel to perform the final draught survey. The moral of the story here is, where there is an opportunity to cut corners and to reduce surprises, there is the risk of malpractices.


In summary, below is a list of important points that are pertinent to testing and inspection practices:

  • The objective of inspection: inspection should be seen as a validation process and must not produce surprises.
  • The need for a good sampling process: if a representative sample cannot be taken, do not take a sample, as incorrect results lead to surprises downstream.
  • The need for a whole-supply-chain approach for testing and inspection: avoid the compartmental test regime, employ a close loop system.
  • As inspection occurs mostly during critical transportation, storage operations and custody transfer, reduce risks by using independent, trustworthy inspection and testing companies.
  • Use laboratories that employ international standards in their testing processes (e.g., ISO 17025).

This article has endeavoured to share some insights in the realm of testing and inspection. By simplifying a very complex process and adopting an overarching guiding principle of no surprises, mining companies can ensure the quality of their testing and inspection procedures, safeguarding themselves from contractual disputes and mitigating risk due to noncompliance.

Read the first two rules – to inspect is better than to expect and use a whole-of-supply-chain enterprise solution – here and here.

Written by Sang Ho. Edited by .

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