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Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management

5 August 2020

The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the Standard) strives to achieve the ultimate goal of zero harm to people and the environment. Underpinned by an integrated approach to tailings management, the Standard aims to prevent catastrophic failure and enhance the safety of mine tailings facilities across the globe. It embodies a step-change in terms of transparency, accountability and safeguarding the rights of project affected people.

Comprising six topic areas, 15 principles and 77 auditable requirements, the Standard will ultimately be supported by implementation protocols that will provide detailed guidance for certification, or assurance as applicable, and for equivalence with other standards.

About the Standard

The Standard is directed at 'operators'[1] and applies to current and future tailings facilities. The starting point for the Standard is that extreme consequences to people and the environment from catastrophic tailings facility failures are unacceptable.

To conform with the Standard, operators must use specified measures to prevent the catastrophic failure of tailings facilities and to implement best practices in planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring, closure and post closure activities.

It is underpinned by an integrated approach to tailings management l. The requirements of the Standard are organised around six topic areas, which encompass 15 principles and 77 auditable requi­re­ments. The Standard also contains a detailed glossary in Annex 1; consequence classification tables in Annex 2; and Annex 3 provides summary tables of key roles, functions, documents and levels of review mentioned in the Standard.

Topic Area I focuses on project-affected people. To respect human rights, including the individual and collective rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, a human rights due diligence process is required to identify and address those that are most at risk from a tailings facility or its potential failure. To demonstrate respect, project-affected people must be afforded opportunities for meaningful engagement in decisions that affect them. The requirements within Topic Area I are intended to be cross-cutting in terms of being addressed across all operational activities and ongoing throughout the tailings facility lifecycle.

Topic Area II requires Operators to develop knowledge about the social, environmental and local economic context of a proposed or existing tailings facility, and as part of this, to conduct a detailed site characterisation. It asks for a multi-disciplinary knowledge base to be developed and used by the operator and key stakeholders in an iterative way to enable all parties to make informed decisions throughout the tailings facility lifecycle. These decisions will arise in the context of the alternatives analyses, the choice of technologies and facility designs, emergency response plans, and closure and post-closure plans, amongst others.

Topic Area III aims to lift the performance bar for designing, constructing, operating, maintaining, monitoring, and closing tailings facilities. Operators are asked to demonstrate the ability to upgrade a facility at a later stage to a higher consequence classification. For existing facilities, where upgrading is not feasible, the operator must reduce the consequences of a potential failure. Recognising that tailings facilities are dynamic engineered structures, Topic Area III requires the ongoing use of an updated knowledge base, consideration of alternative tailings technologies, the use of robust designs and well-managed construction and operation processes to minimise the risk of failure. A comprehensive monitoring system must support the full implementation of the 'observational method' and a performance-based approach must be taken for the design, construction and operation of tailings facilities.

Topic Area IV focuses on the ongoing management and governance of a tailings facility. It provides for the designation and assignment of responsibility to key roles in tailings facility management, including an 'accountable executive', an 'engineer of record' and a 'responsible tailings facility engineer'. Further, it sets standards for critical systems and processes, such as the 'tailings management system' and independent reviews, which are essential to upholding the integrity of a tailings facility throughout its lifecycle. Cross-functional collaboration and the development of a learning organisational culture that welcomes the identification of problems and protects whistle-blowers are also included.

Topic Area V covers emergency preparedness and response in the event of a tailings facility failure. 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.

Topic Area VI requires public disclosure of information about tailings facilities to support public accountability, while protecting operators from the need to disclose confidential commercial or financial information. The Standard concludes by requiring that operators commit to transparency, and participate in global initiatives to create standardised, independent, industry-wide and publicly accessible information about tailings facilities.

ICMM Company Members' Commitment

As of 5 August 2020, all ICMM members committed to implement the Standard. All tailings facilities operated by members with 'extreme' or 'very high' potential consequences will be in conformance with the Standard by 5 August 2023. All other tailings facilities operated by members not in a state of safe closure will be in conformance with the Standard by 5 August 2025.


1. The Standard defines ‘operator’ as: an entity that singly, or jointly with other entities, exercises ultimate control of a tailings facility. This may include a corporation, partnership, owner, affiliate, subsidiary, joint venture, or other entity, including any state agency, that controls a tailings facility.