WHEN A TAILINGS FACILITY FAILS

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WHEN A TAILINGS FACILITY FAILS

When a tailings facility fails, lives are impacted; families are impacted. When a tailings facility fails, the environment suffers; communities can be devastated. When a tailings facility fails, the mining community as a whole suffers. When a tailings facility fails, we are all impacted. When a tailings facility catastrophically fails, there are a lot of questions and very few answers, especially right away. It is best to try to listen to the early-breaking news with a little skepticism. Often, such news comes from non-technical people, and some information can be inaccurate, although eyewitness accounts can be informative. The actual causes of the failure often come out many months after the incident occurs, and even then, opinions can vary. A tailings facility failure is a terrible thing, and nobody involved with the failure can possibly look good, no matter their intentions or actions. People involved in the search and rescue or search and recovery have a very important, but exhausting task of finding survivors and recovering those who have perished. I met a man who was on such a recovery team of a tailings failure that occurred in South Africa. He was giving a presentation to a different mine owner, several years after that failure took place. In the presentation, he had a photograph of himself. He was holding the mud-covered, lifeless body of a small child. He looked directly into the eyes of the meeting’s organizer, and said, “Please Mr. Chairman, do not ever place me into this position again”. The presenter was deeply shaken by the horrible experience, and it shook me to hear his words, and his quivering voice. His point was this: Let’s do the right thing. Let’s don’t save money where money should be wisely spent. Let’s do the right investigations, testing, designing, analyses, construction activities, operations, monitoring, reclamation and closure. Sometimes there are no good words. And sometimes, no words are all there should be. Let our thought of well being be sent out to all those affected, no matter how they are affected.

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Comments (4)

  1. Jerry Perkins

    February 1, 2019 at 6:22 pm

    Bryan, what happened in Brasil was much more than just a tragedy, and even more than a crime. It was an indictment on the overall management of our industry at present. We can all go to well meaning talks by the leaders of all the main miners about their priorities being safety and community – I read them almost daily and I know quite a few of the people making them. But at the end of the day, they are culpable, not only in the deaths and losses of families and loved ones, but in destroying the reputation and the future of the industry that we are all a part of , and our pride in our own professionalism, out the window because of the sheer incompetence of senior management and its structures.

    Five people arrested, but the CEO and senior operational management of Vale? Not so far and probably not a chance. ALL, and I mean all, of our leading mining companies espouse and practice devolution of all operational responsibility to the mine management. From their home office, their PR departments broadcast as much as they can about safety, social licence, responsibility – read it all on their websites. Meanwhile at the operational scale the GM has his/her KPIs – mainly production and some safety statistics, all linked to promotion and bonuses at several levels below him/her. There is virtually no supervision practically from a corporate level because in the interest of lowering overheads for the shareholders (read “finance houses’), and if there is, it is mainly financially orientated through manipulation by packages such as SAP. Our macho Mark Bristow is only the latest in abrogating responsibility in this way to people who do not have the capacity or motivation to prioritize aspects such as tailings dam safety above corporate targets. And you from your experience have seen this on numerous occasions.

    Our management is culpable, especially in large companies, and is letting all of us down. I am in a community that is skeptical about all aspects of mining and I try to be a good ambassador, but when things like this happen, and not for the first or second time, all I can do is apologize on behalf of all of us who do a sound and professional job and prioritize our health and welfare ahead of optimizing SAP KPIs.

    For me, the solution is along the lines that all mining countries such as Canada, Australia, Chile, USA, Peru and other should require their mining ministries to not allow Vale to take out or advance any exploration properties, suspend any projects in construction and not allow any modifications or expansions of projects operating in their territories for at least 5 years. Let Vale operate in Brazil if its government wants them to, but until it can assure the rest of the world that it wants to invest in that it has a management structure that can really operate all aspects of a mine or even exploration project with high levels of safety and responsibility, and that the leadership is responsible. let it stay in Brazil.

    Sounds extreme? Not to me. Those 5 people arrested can in no way wash the hands of the senior management there. Its not a solution for anything, and by the way, neither would be resignations. The culture has to change and do so quickly and I hope the other majors take note – including Mark Bristow.

    • admin

      February 3, 2019 at 6:47 am

      Jerry, my friend, you’ve had the courage to say things that very few people could voice. Thank you for your very well thought our words.
      Funny, I was just thinking about you and Caspiche as I sit here in Santiago. I wish you all the best.

  2. Dawn Carlos

    February 3, 2019 at 6:51 am

    Wow!! He said what no one else had the guts to say! He’s right . It starts at the top and when life and property come before profits than it’s the profits that need to cease for those involved. He’s right about safety. Too much of the time it’s lip service. That president of that company needs to be fired and all beneath him

  3. Sherry Gaddy

    February 6, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Excellent Jerry. Well said.

    Thank you

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