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Tailings management training needs to take a more holistic approach across key sustainability topics

6 June 2022

ICMM members have made a clear, public commitment to implement the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the Standard) and to continual improvement in the safe and transparent management of tailings facilities.

By Aidan Davy, COO, ICMM and co-authors Mike Davies of Teck Resources and Caius Priscu of the University of British Columbia.   

However, we share a greater collective commitment to drive the Standard’s adoption, build capacity and encourage improvement throughout the industry. ICMM members collaborated to produce the Tailings Management Good Practice Guide in 2021 and have now shared their expertise in creating new Training Material.

Tailings facilities are some the largest engineered structures on Earth. Recent catastrophic failures have rightly drawn increased scrutiny to the standards, practices and people involved in designing, managing and regulating these complex structures. The industry’s focus remains on continually improving their safe and transparent management. Further, though each of the failures had their own unique set of contributing factors, a clear lack of suitably trained and experienced personnel at all levels – from design engineer to corporate management – has been a contributing factor in many of these incidents.

The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the Standard), launched in August 2020, sets a new global benchmark for governance, engineering, environmental and social aspects of tailings management. The Standard consists of 77 requirements, which includes resourcing four key governance positions (Engineer of Record, Responsible Tailings Facility Engineer, Independent Tailings Review Board and an Accountable Executive). This core focus on competent personnel with clear lines of responsibility has contributed to an unprecedented demand for suitably experienced and qualified individuals to fill these roles.

ICMM members – representing around one third of the global industry – have committed to conforming with the requirements of the Standard by August 2023 for tailings facilities with ‘extreme’ or ‘very high’ potential consequence and August 2025 for all other facilities. There have also been strong signals from investment, insurance and asset managers calling for industry adoption of the Standard, promoting uptake well beyond ICMM membership into the wider industry, further increasing the demand for key personnel.

Building capacity across companies and disciplines

Many experts are urgently calling for more engineers and applied scientists across the spectrum of technical areas related to tailings management to enter the profession to help plug the supply demand gap that is expected to grow. Additionally, they are also calling for the tailings engineers who are currently in our industry to update and evolve their training and education to take a more holistic approach that includes understanding key sustainability themes reflected in the Standard, including human rights.  

The Standard demands much closer multi-disciplinary collaboration, requiring integration of all aspects that contribute to effective tailings management throughout the lifecycle, including human rights, community engagement, climate change, water management, integrated mine planning and closure, and information disclosure. Being able to communicate effectively with these multi-disciplinary teams while designing, operating and safely closing a tailings facility requires capacity building across the board. Traditional training programmes for tailings management have not often embodied the multi-disciplinary approach advocated by the Standard. Going forward, adopting this approach will strengthen effective tailings management across the global industry.

Taking action

Building the capacity of new and existing professionals is a key priority for ICMM. Drawing upon the exceptional expertise that exists within our 27 member companies and across our 35 industry, professional and commodity associations are central to this effort.

In May 2021, ICMM published a Tailings Management: Good Practice Guide (the Guide), to help the interpretation and implementation of the Standard’s requirements. The Guide builds on the Standard and ICMM’s Tailings Governance Framework and is intended to be applied in a site-specific manner. It describes leading practices on good governance and engineering that supports continual improvement in the management of tailings facilities, and aims to help foster and sustain a corporate safety culture that we hope can be embraced across the industry. 

In early 2022, as an additional step to embed this continual improvement, ICMM launched training material translating the key concepts of the Guide into interactive, concise, and practical modules suitable for a broad audience.

How the training material can help organisations to build capacity

The main aim of the training material is to improve awareness of the importance of integrated tailings management at the site level through the two key concepts of the Guide; good governance and engineering practices. These elements are essential not only to reflect best practices, but to build on one another into an overall coherent tailings management approach at the mine site level.

The training material has been developed in slide pack format and is aimed to be delivered by tailings specialists who are familiar with the activities of their organisation/sites. Two training packs are available – a concise high-level summary for senior leaders to understand key roles and responsibilities (including the Accountable Executive) and a more immersive multi-day workshop for operational site-based staff with a role in tailings management, but who are not themselves tailings specialists.  The materials are adaptable to an individual site or company to suit the needs and specifics of different tailings facilities.

Each module contains learning aims and objectives and strives to encourage the audience to think about their current tailings management opportunities and challenges. In this way, the involvement and participation of multiple disciplines (such as closure, processing, water, community etc) in the planning and delivery of the training sessions can help to enhance the relevance of the material and break down any silos to encourage improvement throughout the industry.

Download training material

Links to download the following training material can be found here.

  • Facilitator handbook to help the tailings specialist plan successful session delivery;
  • High level summary for senior executives on the importance of tailings management, the key concepts of the Guide and Standard, and their role and responsibilities; and
  • Operational staff 3-day workshop covering 6 modules. Includes templates, case studies and quiz questions for a truly interactive learning experience.