Australian law firm plans to sue world’s No.1 miner BHP

Australian law firm plans to sue world’s No.1 miner BHP

May 23rd, 2018

Australian law firm plans to sue world’s No.1 miner BHP. They argue BHP knew the Samarco dam was “at imminent risk of breaking”, but BHP was not transparent, breaching regulations.

Australian law firm plans to sue world’s No.1 miner BHP

Local: Distrito de Bento Rodrigues, Município de Mariana, Minas Gerais.
Foto: Rogério Alves/TV Senado

Reportedly the basis of the class action will be the belief the mining company mislead investors over safety measures, including public warning systems while it was aware of an “imminent collapse” and its very serious potential consequences.

Australian law firm plans to sue world’s No.1 miner BHP

The owners of Samarco dam have repeatedly defended against Brazilian prosecutors claims stating the disaster was preventable. They have stated they complied with Brazilian law and safety was always a key concern.

We will not enter in a legal discussion, but we will note certain points we see as fundamental when approaching dams failures (or any other major accident).

  • As pointed out by various Independent Forensic Teams deployed in the aftermath of various recent accident analyses, dams’ failures are generally not the result of one single “negligence”, but the result of long chains of decisions/ inactions/ deviances.
  • Normalization of deviance is a major culprit. The spiral toward failure starts with a single tiny step out of the original design and intent, one that seems benign, perhaps a mere procedural simplification.
  • Codes which base “safety” of a complex structure on one single number, the Factor of Safety, are part of the reason why dams continue to fail. Thus compliance to codes is not a warranty against failure and does not warrant public safety.
  • Common practice risk assessments generally present a number of major flaws which cloud the issues and mislead decision-makers:
    • poor system’s definition,
    • unclear or absent success and failure criteria statements,
    • censoring and biasing of hazards in terms of probability and magnitude,
    • risks are binned into arbitrary “boxes”.
  • Monitoring and maintenance decisions are often arbitrary, instead of being subject to a risk assessment and subsequent risk informed decision-making. Again, Independent Forensic Teams deployed in the aftermath of various recent accident analyses have clearly expressed their opinion that monitoring devices may be inappropriately placed and therefore their reading misleading.

Closing remarks

There are ways to ensure the safety of tailings dams (portfolios) that go way beyond what codes impose. At TMW2018 we will give a course building those skills.

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Category: Consequences, Hazard, Mitigations, Risk analysis, Risk management

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