Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident

Others see a much clearer role for regulation. For example, the 2016 United Nation Development Programme recommends the incorporation of all relevant sustainable development goals (of the 17 defined SDGs) into mining regulations, while Dashwood (2014) suggests that the mining industry would accept a higher global standard to ensure certainty and consistency across operations. Certainly, implementing global standards that do incorporate wider aspects of human development could help overcome past regulatory failures. Such an approach is reflected in the recommendations of de Oliveira Neves et al. (2016), derived from the Samarco disaster, which emphasize rigorous licensing procedures, protection of ecosystems, regional planning, internalization of negative externalities, increased tax rates and royalties and diversification – all dependent on a strong, holistic regulatory approach. While tailings dam failures are more common at active sites (IEEIRP 2015; Strachan and Goodwin 2015; Rico et al. 2008), chronic problems arising from legacy sites have been

well known for many years (Lyon 1993). Less publicized is the high rate of unplanned closures of mine sites. For example, in Australia this occurs at 75 per cent of mine sites (Laurence 2006, 2011). These unclosed or poorly closed sites may require long-term or perpetual management, with the risk of failure and maintenance costs potentially borne by local communities and authorities. In contrast, properly planned and implemented closure and remediation can have significant environmental and social benefits – one example is the Phoenix #5 surface coal mine in West Virginia, US. The site received a US Office of Surface Mining award for reforestation and reclamation (WV Coal 2017). More female involvement to accelerate improvements in tailings dam safety A lack of diversity on company boards may encourage groupthink and result in underestimation of the costs and risks of externalities. The latest “Mining for Talent” study, commissioned by Women in Mining UK (PwC 2015) found

Regulating for risk - implementing positive change

Failure rate





Independent assurance, medium-term focus

Safety and community first, long-term focus Focused on satisfying and including stakeholders

Meet regulatory standards, business risk Reduce and respond to incidents Poor systems exist Focused on minimum standards

Business risk, cost reduction

Priority Management Incidents Transparency Safety Financial assurance

Prevent incidents, planed and assured response Good, visible systems Focused on satisfying indepen- dent external experts


Eliminate incidents, collective stakeholder incident preparation Very good, highly visible, interactive and responsive systems Is a core value

React to incidents Very poor, obscure or absent systems Requires self-motivated individuals

Is a goal

Is a personal value

Conforms to local standards

Independently assured

Equitable and comprehensive

Often inadequate


Proactive regulation

“We really care about safety - we always respond to serious incidents”

“We consider seriously what we don´t know” Source: adapted from DUPONT Bradley curve 1995

Figure 23. The DuPont Bradley curve adapted to illustrate proactive regulation to improve safety in mine waste management


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