Multi dimensional Consequences

Multi dimensional Consequences

Feb 22nd, 2023

Multi dimensional Consequences approaches take into consideration the varied losses that a failure can generate. Thus they allow for a more thorough and rational evaluation of a failure potential consequences.

Multi dimensional Consequences and tort law

Indeed, by breaking down the consequences into distinct dimensions, such as

  • environmental,
  • economic, and
  • social,

an additive evaluation of multi dimensional consequences can provide a more realistic assessment of the risks associated with a failure. This approach also allows for greater consideration of the long-term implications of the failure. These may be invisible or not immediately apparent  if the analyst consider disjointed consequences dimensions.  Additionally, one can use this approach to discuss any areas of risk that may not have been previously considered.

Mining Multi dimensional Consequence

The German metallurgist Georg Agricola wrote De Re Metallica in 1556. The book included statements such as the following:

When the woods and groves are felled, then are exterminated the beasts and bird, very many of which furnish a pleasant and agreeable food for man. Further, when the ores are washed, the water which has been used poisons the brooks and streams, and either destroys the fish or drives them away. Therefore, the inhabitants of these regions, on account of the devastation of their fields, woods, groves, brooks and rivers, find great difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life.

We can see the many dimensions of consequences were already present in those times: environmental (poison streams), economic (no fishes and devastation of the fields), and social (great difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life).

Tailings Multi dimensional Consequences

Likewise, the dimensions of a tailings dam failure consequence evaluation should always include: the environmental, economic, and social impacts of a failure. Environmental impacts should include at least:

  • damage/destruction of natural habitats,
  • water and soil contamination, and
  • destruction of local ecosystems.

Economic impacts may include:

  • business losses due to destroyed infrastructure,
  • costs of remediation and
  • clean-up.
  • Litigation and financial penalties should also be accounted.

Social impacts may include:

  • displacement of affected communities,
  • disruption of livelihoods,
  • long-term health effects and finally
  • loss of cultural assets.

Displacement of affected communities should be quantified by assessing the:

  • number of people affected and their need for relocation,
  • amount of time they are displaced, and
  • associated costs of relocation.

Additionally, it is important to consider the impact on the local culture, and the psychological and emotional toll it takes on the affected communities.

But what about the casualties? Can tailings risk management learn from the law?

In tort law, the value of a life lost is a monetary amount assigned to a deceased individual as compensation for the loss of life in a wrongful death lawsuit. For instance in B.C. the Family Compensation Act regulates the process of compensation. Other jurisdictions apply similar processes. Interested readers can check for example:

  • Peeples, R. and Harris, C.T., 2015. What is a life worth in North Carolina: A look at wrongful-death awards. Campbell L. Rev., 37, p.497. and
  • Witt, J. (2000). From Loss of Services to Loss of Support: The Wrongful Death Statutes, the Origins of Modern Tort Law, and the Making of the Nineteenth-Century Family. Law & Social Inquiry, 25(3), 717-755. 

A jury typically determines the compensation amount. They take into account the deceased’s age, occupation, health, and other factors. At the basis of the value of a life lost is the concept of loss of life expectancy. The jury calculates it to compensate the deceased’s family members for their financial losses. This procedure has been a standard for over 100 years and there is nothing controversial about it.

Different ways to include the value of a life lost

One can determine the monetary value of a life lost through the use of the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) approach. VSL calculates the economic value of a life based on how much a society, its people, are willing to pay to reduce their risk of death. This corresponds to the WTP, willingness to pay, a concept we have explained in detail in our recent books.

Other methods include the Human Capital approach, which values a life based on an indirect cost due to productivity loss, e.g.  the lost wages (future earnings) and benefits of the deceased.

Out of ethical reasons we always advise out international clients to use the same WTP through their properties, whenever they are in the world.


In conclusion, considering the multidimensional consequences of a failure is crucial in providing a more comprehensive evaluation of risk. This approach allows to identify areas of risk and thus mitigations that may have been previously overlooked. It also helps assessing the long-term implications of a failure. When it comes to tailings dam failures, evaluating the environmental, economic, and social impacts, including casualties, will help improve risk management strategies.

Assigning a monetary value to a life lost, while controversial, is a well-established practice in tort law. We can use it to help quantify the impact of a failure on the affected communities. Considering all of the dimensions of the consequences of a potential failure, one can better manage risks and prevent disasters. Thus, protecting both people and the environment.

As ultimately, it is important to strive for responsible and sustainable practices. That is to minimize the likelihood of failures and ensure the well-being of both the environment and the potentially impacted communities.


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Category: Consequences, Mitigations, ORE2_Tailings, Probabilities, Risk analysis, Risk management, Uncategorized

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