South32 among many calling for change after dam failure in Brazil

February 14, 2019

Among those calling for changes following the dealing tailings dam collapse at Vale’s Córrego de Feijão Mine in Brazil is South32 chief executive Graham Kerr who has called for “meaningful action” across the mining industry in response to the accident in Brazil that is likely to have killed more than 300 people.

“Clearly the incident in Brazil is unacceptable for the industry and it’s something the industry can’t allow to happen again. So how do we, collectively, lift our game,” Kerr said.

The Financial Times reported that Kerr revealed the Australian-based miner was “actively participating” with the International Council on Metals and Mining (ICMM) to develop an improved approach to tailings dam management that he said would be industry wide.

ICMM is the body charged with promoting better environmental and safety performance in the mining sector. It is considering several options to improve tailings dam safety, including a transparent classification system, according to its chief executive Tom Butler.

A similar idea was proposed in 2016 following another dam disaster also in Brazil but was never taken forward. Without new technology or major changes to law and regulation, and industry practices, researchers at World Mine Tailings Failures said in a recent report there would be 19 “very serious” dam failures between 2018 and 2027.

Several other mining companies, including Rio Tinto, have said they will back an industry wide response.

South32, which was spun out of BHP three years ago, has 33 tailings dams spread across three continents. Of the 18 dams still active, eight have the same ‘upstream’ design as the one that burst in Brazil last month.

“Upstream dams if managed well . . . and well constructed are not poorly designed or unsafe facilities,” said Kerr, adding its dams were independently inspected every two years.
 

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