Effective planning for, and response to emergencies is essential for every mining and metals company; to better protect workers and their families, local communities and wider society from harm.
The mining and metals industry is continually working to improve operational safety and security. But it needs to be understood that zero risk is unlikely. This means that safety and security can never be taken for granted and that emergency preparedness plans, based on credible scenario analysis, need to be incorporated into all existing management policies and processes.
Mining and metals emergencies may be defined as operational (eg hazards from pipeline or transportation failures), environmental (eg natural disasters or ground subsidence) or social (eg political conflict or community unrest).
While industry has a responsibility to be prepared for emergencies through internal mechanisms, it’s equally important to work with communities living near mine sites to increase their understanding of potential threats to safety and security. These threats can be from direct and indirect exposure to risks or psychological threats caused by fear of the unknown impacts of a potential incident such as a tailings failure. Both real and perceived risks damage social confidence and trust in the industry.
Regrettably, local communities are not always adequately informed of potential risks, and are therefore unprepared for emergencies. A fast and effective local response to an incident can be the most important factor in limiting injury to people as well as damage to property and the environment.
Strengthening operational capacity
To better support implementation of emergency preparedness by industry, ICMM with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published Good Practice in Emergency Preparedness and Response, a study intended to sit as a companion to the internationally supported Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level (APELL) process.
UNEP’s APELL process adopts a structured approach to community liaison that allows for the good practice guidance to help companies work with local authorities and communities to identify who does what in an emergency, advise on training and scope possible community liaison functions.
Through implementation of a robust emergency preparedness mechanism, mining and metals companies are able to responsibly respond to potential hazards in a way that is timely and sympathetic to the strengths and vulnerabilities of operations and communities.
In addition, the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management also covers emergency preparedness and response in the event of a tailings facility failure. Area V of the Standard outlines that operators must avoid complacency about the demands that would be placed on them in the event of a catastrophic failure. The Standard requires operators to consider their own capacity in conjunction with that of other parties, and to plan ahead, build capacity and work collaboratively with other parties, in particular communities, to prepare for the unlikely case of a failure. Topic Area V also outlines the fundamental obligations of the operator in the long-term recovery of affected communities in the event of a catastrophic failure.