Brown, BS 2019, 'What are the real risks for tailings facilities?', in J Wesseloo (ed.), Proceedings of the First International Conference on Mining Geomechanical Risk
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 21-30.
The movement towards risk-based design and operation of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) has taken place over the last few decades. The establishment of the consequence of failure of a facility is used to determine the design criteria to be used in its design. These criteria generally set the acceptable return periods for seismic and hydrologic events that the facility must accommodate. In addition, there are generally several levels of risk assessment of the design carried out to highlight technical risks that require particular attention and controls to manage. These are usually addressed in the design phase of project development.
Despite this focus on technical risk assessment at the design phases of the development of a TSF, there is still a significant number of failures occurring every year. In recent times, there have been a number of high profile TSF failures in facilities owned by major mining houses and/or located in highly regulated, first world countries. In almost every case, the investigations into the failures have been carried out by high profile, internationally recognised geotechnical engineers who have identified the technical reasons for the failure.
In many cases, it has been shown that the root causes of the failures have been a failure in governance, capital constraints, change management, independent reviews, construction supervision, operation, etc. The investigation of failures and reports to the public are almost exclusively focused on the technical cause with much less focus on what is often the underlying root cause.
A number of international mining industry groups have recognised the lack of effective governance as being a major risk that could lead to TSF failures. The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) are two examples.
In this paper, the various methods for risk assessment and management are described. Non-technical risks that arise in the design and operation of TSFs are discussed and importance of good governance and continuity of its application during the full lifecycle of the facilities is emphasised.
Keywords: risk assessment, non-technical risks, tailings management, governance
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