Australian mining leads the way in tailings safety

Article by Amanda Jasi

THE Australian minerals industry has released a communiqué, which reinforces its position as a global leader in mine tailings safety. 

Tailings are the fine-grained solid residues that result from the extraction and processing of ore. Typically, the waste is transported as a slurry and “thickened”, to minimise water, before it is stored in storage facilities or dams, that are either above or below grounds.

These facilities can collapse, with sometimes tragic consequences. For example, a Vale dam in Brazil collapsed earlier this year, leaving 248 dead and 22 missing, as of a July update. A dam owned by Samarco, co-owned by Vale and BHP Billiton, collapsed in 2015, killing 19 people.

The recently-released Australian Mining Tailings Communiqué was developed by Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) member companies after a workshop earlier this year. The industry met to review governance, culture, and risk management for tailings storage facility management.

According to the recent communiqué the “tragic incidents around the world over the past decade reinforce the need for ongoing vigilance, review, and change”. Additionally, it says this raises questions about tailings management practices from governments, investors, and the community.

“Australian companies are committed playing a role in the global response to develop international guidelines and standards for tailings management by the International Council on Mining and Metals.”

The industry expects that its recent contribution will ensure that the global mining industry “rises to the challenge of having the best possible systems, culture and technology, while remaining vigilant and ready to respond quickly and effectively”.

Believing in the importance of collaboration, Australian minerals companies are working together to assess tailings management systems and ways to highlight leading practice and identify areas for sharing and further improvements.

In the communiqué, the involved members list several actions which they will collaboratively drive. The actions are as follows:

  • Communicate and engage with the community – including government and other key stakeholders – regarding tailings management approach, in a transparent way, to improve community confidence
  • Assess and identify key elements of corporate leadership, culture, systems, and governance to proactively manage tailings risks and share information
  • Continue to actively share and promote industry-leading practices and lessons learned from all industries, both national and international
  • Build industry expertise on the technical aspects of tailings management
  • Offer expertise internationally to help build tailings management initiatives

The MCA is to develop a programme of works to reflect these actions by the end of the year.

It says it will support the recent communiqué with a programme of training, research, and governance actions that are currently under development.

“Opportunities will be identified to build industry expertise and enhance technical capacity on tailings management for the minerals workforce,” said MCA CEO Tania Constable.

Australian tailings management is advanced and highly regulated, but it aims to guard against complacency and to continually improve.

Tania Constable said in a statement: “There is no room for complacency and honest and transparent communication and engagement with the workforce, host communities, governments, investors and other stakeholders is central to the industry’s approach.

“The MCA is proud to be working with member companies, universities, community and our international counterparts to ensure the safety of our workforce is the number one priority on all mine sites.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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