Consultation from the outset key to tailings management: ICMM, UN

The International Council on Mining and Minerals (ICMM) and the United Nations (UN) have highlighted the importance of greater consultation as a key to managing mine tailings safely.

The institutions released a set of global tailings management standards 18 months since a tailings dam tragedy occurred at the Corrego do Feijão iron ore mine in Brazil, taking 270 lives.

Along with the principles of responsible investment, the UN and the ICMM undertook a global tailings review to represent government, industry and investor stakeholders.

After more than a year of development, the review has established standards to stop tailings dams failures, allowing mine operators to develop safe practices for planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring, closure and post-closure of tailings.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation professor of marine science Elaine Baker, who oversaw development of the new standards, tailings dam management requires a higher level of review and the initiatives represent a system-wide change in tailings management.

“The differences between the global standard and many existing standards for tailings dam management include provisions for greater consultation from the outset with potentially affected communities,” she said.

“It also includes increased independent engineering oversight at all stages of tailings management; more transparent mine operator accountability; increased public access to consequence of failure information; and an increased standard of reporting.”

Baker said that tailings dams were some of the largest human-made structures on the planet and therefore required careful ongoing management.

“While large-scale failures of tailings dams are uncommon, when they do occur, they can be catastrophic for downstream communities and the environment,” she said.