Preventing catastrophic failure of tailings storage facilities

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December 2016

Overview

This position statement sets out ICMM members’ approach to the governance of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) for the mining and metals industry to minimise the risk of catastrophic failure of tailings facilities.

Tailings are the solid material plus varying degrees of runoff and process water (waste) remaining after the recoverable metals and minerals have been extracted from mined ore. The physical and chemical characteristics of the tailings vary with the nature of the ore, its geological setting and the climate where the tailings are placed.  Tailings are most commonly stored in surface facilities, which can represent a significant area of disturbance at mining operations.

The foundation for this position statement is a tailings storage facility (TSF) governance framework which enhances focus on those key elements of management and governance necessary to maintain integrity of TSFs and minimise the risk of catastrophic failures.  The six key elements of this TSF governance framework are:

Background on ICMM principles and position statements

All ICMM member companies implement the ICMM Sustainable Development Framework as a condition of membership.1 This includes commitments to implement 10 principles throughout their businesses, to report in line with the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Framework and to obtain independent external assurance that the ICMM commitments are being met (this framework is described in detail at www.icmm.com/member-commitments).

ICMM principles of particular relevance to preventing catastrophic failure of TSFs are:

In accordance with the principles, ICMM has also developed a number of position statements that further elaborate member commitments to particular issues. Company members comply with these statements by incorporating them into their operational practices.

Recognition statements

ICMM members recognise that:

  1. Tailings production is inherent to mining and minerals processing and will remain so for the foreseeable future. These materials require engineered solutions for their long-term safe storage and sustainable management.
  2. TSFs undergo ongoing changes over their life cycle which must be considered and managed to ensure continued TSF safety and structural integrity.
  3. Catastrophic TSF failures are unacceptable and owners and operators of such facilities should ensure systems, standards and resources are in place to prevent failures.
  4. Potential for TSF failures must be considered and addressed through a facility’s life cycle, which includes design, construction, operation and closure.
  5. Technical guidance exists to support preventing catastrophic failures of TSFs through appropriate design, construction, operation and closure. Owners and operators utilise this along with the judgement of competent designers and experts. Some extreme natural events are impossible to predict.  
  6. Each TSF is unique. Site conditions, mineral characteristics and other aspects of each mine site dictate appropriate tailings technology and storage solutions. Although no single design or operating practice can be adopted universally, the industry continually seeks to improve and develop techniques and new technologies and implement them as appropriate.

Commitments

In addition to existing commitments under the ICMM Sustainable Development Framework ICMM member companies commit to implement practices consistent with the Tailings Governance Framework (the ‘Framework’) so that the risk of catastrophic failure of tailings storage facilities is minimised.

Tailings Governance Framework

The purpose of the Tailings Governance Framework is to enable enhanced focus on the following six key elements of management and governance necessary to prevent catastrophic failures of tailings storage facilities (TSFs).

Accountability, responsibility and competency

Accountabilities, responsibilities and associated competencies are defined to support appropriate identification and management of TSF risks.

Planning and resourcing

The financial and human resources needed to support continued TSF management and governance are maintained throughout a facility’s life cycle.

Risk management

Risk management associated with TSFs includes risk identification, an appropriate control regime and the verification of control performance.

Change management

Risks associated with potential changes are assessed, controlled and communicated to avoid inadvertently compromising TSF integrity.

Emergency preparedness & response

Processes are in place to recognise and respond to impending failure of TSFs and mitigate the potential impacts arising from a potentially catastrophic failure.

Review & assurance

Internal and external review and assurance processes are in place so that controls for TSF risks can be comprehensively assessed and continually improved.

Notes

1. Members are expected to implement the commitments in this position statement by November 2018. The position statement will not apply retroactively.