When there is a major industrial disaster, there are a number of common reactions. People express shock or anger, empathise with victims, and applaud rescue efforts. Losses and damages are calculated, and forensic investigations ensue. Many people will ask how the disaster happened. However, while legal charges may be laid against individuals and organisations, and moral disapproval expressed towards those seen as responsible for the disaster, rarely do we insist that investigators look beyond immediate events and probe for deeper underlying causes. In the aftermath of a disaster – and before public interest wanes – popular media tends to centre on the drama, the tragedy, and the crimes of those who failed to fulfil their corporate responsibilities. This sequence mirrors what has occurred after devastating failures of mine tailings facilities. Most recently, the world expressed shock at the torrent of sludge that wiped out villages and ecosystems in Brazil, watched in horror as the death count of employees and community members rose, and empathised with the families whose lives and livelihoods were shattered. Forensic studies of the tailings facilities were commissioned, examining their design, integrity and stability. The decisions that immediately preceded the failures and the sudden release of slurry were also scrutinised and flaws exposed. As prosecutors identified who was responsible, fines were issued, damages paid, and charges instituted against corporate executives. There is a growing movement in contemporary disaster research that asks not only why a particular event occurred, but why it resulted in disaster. This approach pushes towards a deeply structural and systemic analysis on the basis that conventional investigations of catastrophic events provide only a partial explanation. The approach pivots away from conceptualising disaster as a spatially and time-bound event, and towards seeing the broader context as a potential cause of the disaster, and not simply as the backdrop against which disaster plays out. Re-framing disasters in this way has important practical implications, as it significantly broadens the focus of efforts to prevent catastrophic outcomes in the future. In this chapter I draw on this body of work to demonstrate the value of viewing tailings disasters as resulting from a set of factors and forces that produce conditions of vulnerability that create or contribute to disasters, rather than a disaster being attributable solely to the hazard; or in the case of a tailings facility, the failure of an engineered structure. I also examine the challenges associated with mobilising forensic, broad-based research to conduct this form of analysis, and explore the implications for the global mining industry of viewing disasters from a perspective that includes people’s vulnerability as a causal factor.The first part of the chapter defines ‘disaster’ and ‘disaster risk’, and then reviews developments in international disaster research and practice. I then briefly elaborate five principles that define this contemporary approach to understanding and explaining disasters. In the concluding section I reflect on the benefits of taking a broad-based approach to analysing disaster risk in mining and discuss the challenges associated with changing how the industry views – and therefore seeks to explain – the causes of a tailings disaster. A key aim of the chapter is to demonstrate that social, cultural, political and historical factors must be considered if the goals of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the ‘Standard’) are to be realised. Deeply technical knowledge from the physical sciences is crucial to the safe design, construction, management, and closure of tailings facilities. However, while such knowledge is essential, it is not sufficient for understanding and addressing the myriad underlying causes that give rise to tailings facility disasters. The Standard has succeeded in positioning other, non-technical considerations as relevant to risk reduction (e.g. local-level engagement, organisational management systems and internal culture), but further shifts in the mining industry’s approach will be required to achieve the ultimate goal of preventing catastrophic tailings facilities failures.