ICMM launches two new resources to support continual improvement in the safe and transparent management of tailings

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 (the Standard) and a Tailings Management Good Practice Guide (the Guide).

When ICMM launched the Standard alongside the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), 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 in the Conformance Protocols map to the Standard’s 77 requirements, enabling conformance against all applicable requirements to be assessed.

ICMM has also launched a Tailings Management Good Practice Guide that 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. It 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 its development. This 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.

Aidan Davy, COO, ICMM said: “ICMM and our members have an unwavering commitment to the safe management of tailings facilities, and the publication of our Conformance Protocols for the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management and Tailings Management Good Practice Guide are an important step towards achieving our 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.”

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 published today 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 Professor (Emeritus), University of Alberta  (who supported the development of ICMM’s Guide) said: “The construction and operation of a tailings storage facility is a highly dynamic process. Therefore, reliable confirmation of safety requires an equally dynamic process applied to the full lifecycle of the facility so that it can, in turn, reassure all stakeholders. Progress in this regard has already been made by the publication of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. 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.”

Tamara Johndrow, Director of Tailings, Crushed Leach and Water, Freeport-McMoRan and Chair of the ICMM working group that developed the resources said: “Effective implementation of the Standard is a top priority for ICMM members and a group of member representatives worked collectively to produce the ICMM’s Tailings Management Good Practice Guide, which can be used to improve tailings management, governance and engineering practices across numerous types of tailings facilities and geographies. The Conformance Protocols for the Standard provide both operators and independent third-party assessors access to the same criteria to measure progress towards conformance against all applicable requirements and avoid misinterpretation of the Standard. Collaboration between experts across ICMM’s membership allowed for the capture of practical experience from companies operating in diverse geographies, commodities and regulatory systems, helping to make these resources strong and powerful tools.”

Charles Dumaresq, Vice President, Science and Environmental Management, Mining Association of Canada, who contributed to the development of the Guide said: “As global demand for metals and minerals continues to increase, and the transition to a low carbon economy brings increased demand for critical minerals, the volume of tailings produced by mining will continue to increase. Past failures of tailings facilities, including the tragic 2019 failure of a tailings facility near Brumadinho, Brazil, underscore the importance of integrating good governance and engineering practices for tailings management, based on a foundation of a strong safety culture that reduces the opportunity for human error. Every mine site in the world needs to prioritise the safe and responsible management of tailings, and it is imperative that both industry and regulators drive continual improvement in tailings management to achieve this goal.”

These two resources are publicly available on ICMM’s website for use by the wider mining and metals industry. ICMM will continue to promote the education of tailings professionals by adapting the Guide into training material to support knowledge building and training at the site level. In addition to focusing on management, ICMM’s comprehensive approach to tailings includes driving progress towards a longer-term goal of reducing or eliminating tailings.