Mining Industry Still Struggles with Compliance on Tailings Standards

Despite the implementation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM), many companies are still lagging behind in compliance.

tailings management

Since 2020, efforts have been made within the mining industry to improve tailings dam management following the tragic Brumadinho catastrophe in 2019. Despite the implementation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM), many companies are still lagging behind in compliance. This article delves into the reasons behind the ongoing challenges and examines potential solutions to ensure safer practices in the future.

The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative:

The GISTM, proposed by the International Council of Mining and Minerals (ICMM), aims to enhance tailings management practices beyond just ensuring dam integrity. The initiative covers various aspects including community engagement, compliance disclosures, and protections for whistle-blowers. While 77 companies have subscribed to the standards, there are still 126 companies outside the system, prompting the formation of the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative (IMTSI). This initiative, led by major investors, seeks to pressure companies into adopting the standards, with a focus on the remaining non-compliant entities.

Investor Action on Tailings Standards:

The IMTSI has been proactive in pushing for compliance, with 44 of the 50 largest mining companies responding to disclosure requests. However, smaller and mid-tier miners are still struggling to meet the standards due to limited resources and expertise. The IMTSI plans to hold companies accountable by voting against chairs of non-compliant firms and potentially filing shareholder resolutions.

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The Challenges of Assessing Tailings Risk:

One of the hurdles in achieving compliance lies in accurately assessing the risk posed by tailings storage facilities. The ICMM categorizes facilities based on their potential impact in case of failure, but companies face difficulties in developing a comprehensive interdisciplinary knowledge base. Despite progress, challenges remain in implementing all aspects of the standards within the specified timeframe.

Building Better Governance Systems:

Transitioning to compliant governance structures takes time, particularly for smaller companies like Anglo Asian. While these structural changes are necessary, they require careful analysis and resources. Efforts are underway to establish a Global Tailings Management Institute to oversee auditing and certification processes, but further refinement and clarity on governance are needed.

Limited Resources and Knowledge Stalling Progress:

The lack of expertise and resources poses a significant barrier to compliance, especially for smaller companies with tighter margins. The mining consulting community has a limited pool of experts in tailings management, and regulatory frameworks vary across jurisdictions. Without adequate support and funding, achieving full compliance remains a challenge.

Is Tighter Regulation the Solution?

Some experts advocate for stricter regulations and increased financial penalties for non-compliance to incentivize adherence to standards. However, regulatory enforcement alone may not suffice without industry support and lobbying for legislative reforms. Balancing regulatory oversight with industry accountability is crucial to improving tailings management practices.

Will Subscription to Standards be Enough?

While subscription to standards is a positive step, true efficacy depends on enforcement and auditing mechanisms. Third-party enforcement may be necessary to ensure compliance, but industry culture and leadership also play a critical role. Transparency and stakeholder engagement can enhance accountability and support front-line managers in upholding best practices.

The mining industry continues to grapple with compliance on tailings standards, despite concerted efforts to improve practices. Challenges such as limited resources, governance restructuring, and regulatory complexities hinder progress. Moving forward, a combination of stricter regulations, industry accountability, and stakeholder engagement is necessary to ensure safer tailings management and prevent future disasters.

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