ICMM provides update on global mining standards

September 12, 2019

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) said that the new safety standards that it was tasked with creating after Vale’s tailings dam disaster in Brazil will include rules to better define management accountability and will help ensure independent reviews of dams and adequate disclosure of safety risks.

The ICMM was tasked with creating the rules after a tailings dam collapse in town of Brumadinho, which killed nearly 250 people in January. That dam failure, which happened less than four years after another collapse at the Samaraco Mine, a joint venture between Vale and BHP, killed 19 people in Brazil. These failures have pushed the issue of tailings dam safety to the forefront and pushed ICMM to establish global rules for the construction and inspection of such facilities.

Reuters reported that while the cause of the Brumadinho disaster is still under review, some experts have suggested failings in governance at the miner as being partly to blame. The company’s chief financial officer said in February that senior executives had never been shown internal security documents indicating the dam was at risk of collapse.

The ICMM represents about a third of the mining industry but Tom Butler, president of the International Council on Mining and Metals said the standards, being drawn up by an eight-member panel of tailings, health, risk and legal experts, could influence the wider sector.

“We’re hoping it will have sufficient scale to encourage take-up by others,” he said at a packed session on tailings dam management at a mining conference in Belo Horizonte, about 30 km (20 miles) from the site of the disaster.

A draft version of the standards, which will also govern initial planning of dam sites as well as emergency preparedness and recovery plans, “is almost ready to go out” and is expected by late September early October, Butler said.

That will be followed by a public consultation period, with the new standards likely to be finalized and disseminated in the first quarter of 2020, he said.

Members of the panel visited Brazil in July and more recently British Colombia, the site of a 2014 breach at Imperial Metals Corp’s Mount Polley Mine, which sent billions of gallons of wastewater and sludge into waterways.

 Photo: Doce River at Minas Gerais, Brazil following the tailings failure at the Samarco Mine. Shutterstock.

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