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The Mining Association of Canada updates tailings management guidance

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) has announced updates to its guidance on responsible tailings management that, the association says, aligns its policies with the ‘Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management’ published last year.

The Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) standard, first developed by MAC in 2004, is a globally recognised sustainability program that supports mining companies in managing key environmental and social risks. TSM was the first mining sustainability standard in the world to require site-level assessments and is mandatory for all companies that are members of implementing associations.

Through TSM, eight critical aspects of social and environmental performance are evaluated, independently validated, and publicly reported against 30 distinct performance indicators.

As part of this, MAC has also come up with its ‘Tailings Management Protocol’ and supporting guidance documents.

“TSM provides an established system for credible performance measurement and reporting, including rigorous standards to help ensure that tailings facilities are being responsibly managed,” MAC said. “Effective tailings management is rightly being prioritised more than ever to ensure that stakeholders, communities surrounding mine sites, investors and the general public can have confidence in how mining operations are being run.”

Pierre Gratton, MAC’s President & CEO, said the publication of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management last year provided a good opportunity to review TSM’s requirements, with a view to incorporating aspects of it that would further enhance the safe management of tailings facilities around the world.

“What we found was broad alignment in most critical aspects, plus some opportunities to further strengthen our guidance and TSM requirements,” he said. “We also found that, in many respects, TSM is more detailed and rigorous than the standard and is a surer guarantee of the safe management of tailings facilities.”

In efforts to ensure continued best practices and world leading tailings management expertise, MAC has updated ‘A Guide to the Management of Tailings Facilities’ to improve alignment with requirements of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. These updates, the first step in a process of further strengthening TSM requirements and guidance for tailings management, are based on a detailed comparison of the equivalency of TSM requirements to those of the standard, MAC said. To further align with the standard, MAC is also expanding the application of the TSM Tailings Management Protocol to closed and inactive sites.

With these changes, TSM will, MAC says, meet or exceed most of the requirements in the standard and will continue to:

  1. Provide more detailed and rigorous performance measurement expectations. For example, the standard has three high-level requirements related to developing and implementing an operation, maintenance and surveillance (OMS) manual for tailings facilities, whereas TSM identifies more than 120 items that must be addressed to be in conformance with the TSM requirement to develop and implement an OMS manual;
  2. Take a more comprehensive approach to identifying and addressing human and community rights and benefits; and
  3. Have an established and independent verification process with almost two decades of experience measuring, assuring and publicly reporting site level performance.

Adam Matthews, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Church of England Pensions Board, who repesented the Principles for Responsible Investment that helped developed the standard, said: “We welcome the Mining Association of Canada’s intent to incorporate the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management into the TSM framework. We hope and expect the mining industry as a whole to adopt the standard, and support improvements that will lead to the safer management of waste.”

TSM does not fully address elements of the standard related to the planning, design, and initial construction of new tailings facilities. In addition to guidance in the MAC Tailings Guide, MAC members also rely upon the Canadian Dam Association safety guidelines and tailings dam bulletins.

Gratton concluded: “With the growth and expansion of TSM internationally, including its adoption most recently by the Minerals Council of Australia, we now have a robust system for ensuring the promotion and implementation of best practices in tailings management the world over.”