Risk and Resilience in Mining

Risk and Resilience in Mining

Oct 27th, 2016

We are only two weeks away from the Risk and Resilience in Mining Conference. It will take place in Vancouver (Nov. 13th to 16th) with the following program.

Risk and Resilience in Mining

Let’s adopt a bit of a polemical stance, just to stir the discussion.

Risk and Resilience in Mining
First of all, in particular as it relates to the term resilience, are we sure we need to “invent a new word” for it? Isn’t it just “returning to good sense engineering” what we need?

A bit of history

When our ancestors, thousands of years ago wanted to build “resilient” structures, they sure knew how. Examples:

  • Europe Tumulus of Bougon 4800BCE;
  • Africa Pyramid of Djoser 2667–2648 BCE the arliest large-scale cut stone construction; and finally
  • America Sechin Bajo 3500 BCE the oldest known building in the Americas and also, however way more recent, Cahokia.

Apart from the Tumulus of Bougon, these structures are very similar, both in shape, size and they are numerous. Of course we should not fall in the “survivor bias”. We actually do not know how many of this type of structures our ancestors built and how many failed miserably.

Pyramids represent the largest family of long-term easily-visible surviving structures around the world and are a feature of many civilizations. Aside these pyramids we only know a few dozens of older excavated structures.

We can say the same of roman structures, theatres, bridges, aqueducts, and then cathedrals. Again, as engineering was proceeding by trial and error (only), workers/slaves/devoted people were cheap. We do not know how many failed examples our forefathers built before the final success. Butthey learned form failures and what is there to be admired today is a fabulous heritage.

In more recent, but still historic, times our ancestors have shown to be able to “rethink” and built resilient structures, however often in the aftermath of a catastrophe.

And today?

Today we live in a world where factors of safety tend to diminish either arbitrarily or by “playing on words” while interpreting codes. This has happened with tailings dams, as proven by recent forensic analyses of Mount Polley and Samarco.

The last few generations (2-3) are the ones that have contributed the most to the new “anthropocene” era. Anthropocene comes with newly generated hazards because of the shear magnitude of their undertakings.

Many do not understand the impact of reduced factors of safety on the probability of failure (short and long term) of containment structures. Many underestimate risks by misunderstanding the consequences of failures, their probabilities. But many also overestimate them, for example media and other parties seeking to thrill.

Society feels the need to “put some order”, but very few actually undertake this daunting task. Denial is easier.

Another buzz word?

So, do we really need a new word like, for example “resilience” to trigger a return to good sense engineering, supported by some rational, unbiased risk assessment?

Risk assessments should support good sense engineering. Risk assessments should allow estimates of the probability of failure compliant with, for example. the ANCOLD tolerance thresholds.

One should not use standard practice matrix-based risk assessments (Oboni et al. (2013), C. Oboni, F. Oboni, (2012)). They lack the necessary finesse and resolution and could actually severely mislead TD owners/operators to the point of exposing them to severe liabilities.

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Category: Consequences, Crisis management, Probabilities, Risk analysis, Risk management, Tolerance/Acceptability

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