Catastrophic risk management of tailings storage facilities

Author(s) K. Pearce, J. du Toit, C. Bracho, A. Raman, R. Davila, W. Chan, D. McEvoy
Presented at COM October 14-15, 2020


With several devastating tailings dam failures in this past decade, there is an increased level of global concern around tailings management. Mining houses globally recognize the need for a holistic Tailings Management System (TMS) that aims to improve environmental, social and economic outcomes and effectively manages the associated catastrophic risks. In this paper we outline the implementation of critical controls through a holistic TMS, organized into three dimensions: Technical; Digital; Organizational.

The Technical dimension is anchored by various Key Elements across the dam life cycle, from planning, design and construction to operations and closure. The Technical dimension of the TMS prescribes Standard Operating Procedures for each of these Key Elements designed around industry best practices for tailings management.

The Digital dimension is anchored by a Functional Landscape, clustered into different themes: field inspection; communications; geotechnical operations; integration and analytics; and an overarching business enterprise. The Functional Landscape specifies a roadmap for instrumentation, monitoring and operational systems to transform data into information for risk-informed decision-making.

The Organizational dimension is framed using Robert Simon’s X-test, to understand the demand and supply pressures within the organization. Understanding and balancing the trade-offs between the two is achieved by establishing clear roles & responsibilities, deploying new rhythms & routines, and developing a career path for tailings professionals.