Tailings Dam Governance

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Is Engineer of Record needed for tailings storage facilities in Australia?

A consideration of all mining companies and a primary focus of investors is the risk of failure for tailings storage facilities (TSFs) across all mining sectors. Global documentation on best practices produced across several countries all suggest the inclusion of an Engineer of Record (EoR). However, the inclusion of an EoR is not regulated in Australia as it is for other countries such as Canada.

The conditions required for EoR success

Given the intent of the EoR role is a management tool for mitigating risks, are the risks to the mining company reduced with the inclusion of an EoR role? With most mining companies, the EoR role is subject to stringent procurement conditions, and some companies limit the involvement of the EoR within the governance team. In short, there are many different models of the EoR role implemented across the mining sector, which will likely have very different outcomes.

To be successful, a key consideration of the EoR role is to be involved in the operational phase of the TSF. This requires ‘buy-in’ from the mine managers and a change in the way TSFs are perceived.

One could argue that the current roles of the design and construction engineer (RPEQ or CPeng) for a TSF and the long term relationship between mining companies and engineering firms that are typical within Australia are as effective as implementing a specific EoR role. Where this falls down in relation to governance or stewardship of a TSF, is during the operation where no ongoing design or construction is undertaken or where a mine site is in a care and maintenance phase with the TSF almost forgotten.

Procurement continuity concerns

One of the potential issues with the implementation of EoR, especially if regulated, comes from the procurement aspects and continuity of personnel within the EoR company. Mining companies may believe their obligations to investors are met with the appointment of an EoR, however the role of the EoR, if constrained by procurement and a typical client/consultancy relationship provides no improvement to the mitigation of safety risks for the TSF.

The effectiveness of the EoR is constrained if recommended actions are not implemented on site. For an EoR to be truly useful, the role needs to be recognised “on-the-ground” and not just within the corporate head office.

Removing risk at a site level

For the EoR role to be recognised, sites need to see the value and also understand the risks associated with construction, operation and closure of TSFs. All too often monitoring and operational controls and documentation are ignored, with the operator not fully understanding the risks. The expected operation of a TSF informs the design and contributes to the level of risk the design potentially poses.

During the operational phase of the TSF a large proportion of the EoR role should incorporate on-the-ground training for the operations personnel rather than it turning into a higher-level overseeing role. The EoR needs to become an integral part of the governance team and empowered to make decisions, as they relate to dam safety and without the traditional procurement relationship as a roadblock. Potentially the introduction of EoR would create a role that is not otherwise realised between the Design Engineer and the Client.

By Lis Boczek – Principal Engineer

Lis has over 20 years experience in a wide range of civil and geotechnical engineering projects servicing mining, industrial and local government clients. Her particular experience in the area of mine tailings and mine water storage and management applications includes dam siting, geotechnical/foundation assessment, embankment design, construction management and earthworks quality control, and capping assessments. She also has expertise in landfill engineering included landfill siting assessment, design of containment cells, rehabilitation and capping designs.