The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) has launched two new resources to support continual improvement in the safe and transparent management of tailings facilities: Conformance Protocols for the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management and a Tailings Management: Good practice guide.
The ICMM, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) launched the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management in August last year. At the launch, ICMM members committed that all tailings facilities with ‘Extreme’ or ‘Very high’ potential consequences will be in conformance with the Standard by August 2023, and all other facilities by August 2025.
To support this timeline, ICMM has developed a set of Conformance Protocols to help operators and independent third parties assess implementation of the Standard’s requirements across tailings facilities. The 219 clear and concise criteria enable conformance against all applicable requirements to be assessed.
The ICMM’s Tailings Management: Good practice guide aims to promote good governance and engineering practices that support continuous improvement in the management of new and existing tailings facilities, and to strengthen the ‘safety culture’ within companies.
It provides comprehensive guidance on tailings management, covering a broad range of technical and engineering elements, including improved engineering practices across the whole tailings lifecycle: from project conception and design to construction and operation, closure and post-closure.
It integrates stronger governance around four key areas: 1) corporate policy, accountability and responsibility; 2) operation, maintenance and surveillance activities; 3) information management; and 4) oversight and emergency preparedness.
It also reinforces the importance of engaging with local communities and regulators, and is the first guidance that clearly details the roles of board directors and executives relating to tailings management.
The Guide includes a performance-based, risk-informed approach advocated by Professor Norbert Morgenstern, a world-leading expert in tailings management, who was actively engaged in the Guide’s development. The approach centres on continuous monitoring to confirm that a tailings facility is performing as intended which provides a rigorous technical basis for decision-making and proactive management.
Chief Operating Officer of the ICMM, Aidan Davy, said the publication of the two resources is an important step towards achieving the ICMM’s ambition of zero harm.
“The Standard established clear expectations around global transparency and disclosure, including requirements for independent oversight. Effective assessment of conformance to the Standard through the Conformance Protocols will help to demonstrate to all stakeholders that responsible practices are being applied across the tailings lifecycle. And we hope that they are widely adopted as a basis for assessing conformance by all those who share our commitment. The Guide provides a comprehensive resource that will help companies to continually learn and improve, raising the bar to make all tailings facilities safer,” he said.
Adam Matthews, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Church of England Pensions Board (who acted on behalf of PRI in the process of developing the Standard), said: “As investors in the mining industry, the safety of tailings facilities is a major priority for the Church of England Pensions Board. Now that we have a Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, we are very supportive of practical resources like those [recently] published that seek to bridge the Standard and implementation.”
“We have been clear, along with many other investors, banks and insurers, that poor tailings management poses a significant risk to life and the environment and companies that do not demonstrate conformance to the Standard will find themselves at odds with their shareholders, banks and insurers. It is crucial for industry to get this right and to continue to improve. In that context, we welcome ICMM’s Conformance Protocols as an effective means of demonstrating conformance. This is another important foundational piece of the puzzle being put into place in advance of the establishment of an independent Global Tailings Institute later this year.”
Professor Norbert R Morgenstern, Distinguished University Professor (Emeritus), University of Alberta (Canada) said the construction and operation of a tailings storage facility is a highly dynamic process which requires reliable confirmation of safety and an equally dynamic process applied to the full lifecycle of the facility so that it can, in turn, reassure all stakeholders.
“While the task of determining the cause of failure is simpler after the event, I have evaluated ICMM’s Tailings Management: Good practice guide in terms of my experience with a significant number of tailings dam failures and related serious incidents and concluded that had this Guide been available and adopted, these incidents should not have occurred.”
Below are some simple graphics on key elements of the Conformance Protocols for the Standard and the Good Practice Guide: