Regulations or Risk-based regulations for mine waste management

Regulations or Risk-based regulations for mine waste management

Jun 27th, 2018

In these days of increased scrutiny by regulators and public opinion pressure we face a conundrum: Regulations or Risk-based regulations for mine waste management?

The 2015 South African regulations reportedly specify design standards for mining waste disposal facilities based on the character of waste.

Regulations or Risk-based regulations for mine waste management

As discussed in our recent blog post on mine waste classification systems waste characterization is a measure of the waste hazard and not of the risks generated by those wastes.

Regulations based on hazards are ubiquitous and correspond to a “one size fits all” forma mentis. It is true that since perhaps the 16th century we consider that “the law is blind”, but if that works relatively well for civil and criminal justice, it seems to generate misplacement of capex when dealing with mine waste management.

We certainly welcome the idea that new tailings disposal facilities would be developed according to more stringent design specifications, but those specs have to be risk-driven and not hazard-driven to avoid unsustainable and overall inefficient capex and opex.

Regulations or Risk-based regulations for mine waste management?

Hazard-based regulations (common practice) consider a waste storage facility for a certain waste category identical whether it is located in a uninhabited desert, an agricultural area, nearby a body of water or in a steep valley uphill of a town. The misleading effect is obvious.

A risk-based approach to the design, construction, operations and closure of disposal facilities would be very different. It would consider the waste categories and the consequences of potential failures. Thus it would help to identify and screen cost effective alternatives to waste containment.

Almost thirty years ago we won an international design an build bid for the environmental restoration of a asbestos mine dump. That was the beginning of the application of ORE, Optimum Risk Estimates, which has now evolved into ORE2-Tailings.
Today we continue to apply the same for any mining endeavour we examine, from new mines, to pits, water treatment plants, access roads, and wharves infrastructures.

Benefits and comments

Hazard-based codes and guidelines often inadvertently preclude a range of appropriate design alternatives. Those could for example mitigate environmental impacts while optimizing capex and opex.

They also often lead to a “compliance game”. In compliance games the objective becomes uncritical compliance, rather than  optimum balance of various issues. An example is designs aiming to reach a code imposed Factor of Safety -FoS-, while neglecting other aspects of safety.

So, what are the benefits of risk-based regulations? Here are a few:

  • They allow reasonable approaches to ecological impacts and
  • Reduce capital and operational expenditures while ensuring control of uncertanties.
  • They bring together practitioners from various key disciplines.
  • Their findings are integrated in the multi-hazard analyses leading to the definition of the risk landscape of an operation.

Great care should be used in formulating risk-based regulations, in order to ensure minimization of conflict of interest.
Finally, risk-based regulations should make it clear that risk assessment is a discipline and not a “hobby”. A discipline that requires specific skills and a different way of thinking.

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Category: Consequences, Optimum Risk Estimates, Risk analysis, Risk management

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