The starkest indicator of a catastrophic tailings facility failure is loss of human life. There is no more devastating outcome. If a tailings facility has a significant flow failure in a locality where people live or work, where protections are absent, and local capacity to respond is low, tragedy is likely to unfold. While the loss and damage from a catastrophic failure can be forensically documented, quantified and classified, the lived experience for affected people is one of trauma and distress. These considerations provided the backdrop to our work as communities and social performance specialists on the Expert Panel for the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the ‘Standard’). Preventing loss of life and responding to worst case scenarios involves anticipating what might unfold under different circumstances. This requires an understanding of the social norms, rules and protocols that would apply in the event of a failure event. This knowledge offers the much needed insight into people’s ownership and use of land and territory, systems of social and political organisation, livelihood systems, and human exposure to credible failure modes and potential impacts. It follows, therefore, that this knowledge must be available to developers, regulators and local people before a facility is built, and before a failure occurs. Early access to data andinformation may even enable decisions that entirely avoid the possibility of harm to people. A catastrophic tailings facility failure is not solely defined by loss of life. Though lives were not lost at Mount Polley, traditional custodians characterised the tailings facility failure at this operation as catastrophic. First Nations groups have expressed, quite publicly, that the damage to places of cultural and ecological significance and the associated loss and trauma from this event was catastrophic for theircommunities, with lasting effect. Some dam specialists have argued that the Mount Polley event should not be described as catastrophic because the consequences of the failure did not meet the necessary threshold in the engineering Consequence Classification tables. In their view, any application of the descriptor ‘catastrophic’ where lives were not lost serves no function other than to invoke unnecessary emotion. By contrast, we argue that the way a tailings facility failure is described or classified must be understood as a function of position, privilege, and perspective. Our experience of working in the area of mining and social performance is that there are often differences in how actors understand and interpret a supposedly ‘common’ event. Reconciling the professional and the personal, the cultural and the commercial, and the differences between local and global understandings of ‘development’ and ‘disaster’ is, we would argue, the essence of social performance work. This chapter explains how and why social performance work is critical to tailings facility management. It describes the logic that underpins the inclusion and integration of social performance elements throughout the Standard, and our work to ensure that these elements were stabilised during the various rounds of consultation and feedback. It also provides our perspective on what is needed to ensure the effective participation of social performance in the Standard’s implementation into the future.

Social Performance and Safe Tailings Management: A Critical Connection

Resource Key: N3ZBW4P7

Document Type: Book Section

Creator:

Series Editor:

  • B. Oberle
  • D. Brereton
  • A. Mihaylova

Author:

  • Susan Joyce
  • Deanna Kemp

Creators Name: {mb_resource_zotero_creatorsname}

Place: London

Institution:

Date: August 2020

Language: en

The starkest indicator of a catastrophic tailings facility failure is loss of human life. There is no more devastating outcome. If a tailings facility has a significant flow failure in a locality where people live or work, where protections are absent, and local capacity to respond is low, tragedy is likely to unfold. While the loss and damage from a catastrophic failure can be forensically documented, quantified and classified, the lived experience for affected people is one of trauma and distress. These considerations provided the backdrop to our work as communities and social performance specialists on the Expert Panel for the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the ‘Standard’). Preventing loss of life and responding to worst case scenarios involves anticipating what might unfold under different circumstances. This requires an understanding of the social norms, rules and protocols that would apply in the event of a failure event. This knowledge offers the much needed insight into people’s ownership and use of land and territory, systems of social and political organisation, livelihood systems, and human exposure to credible failure modes and potential impacts. It follows, therefore, that this knowledge must be available to developers, regulators and local people before a facility is built, and before a failure occurs. Early access to data andinformation may even enable decisions that entirely avoid the possibility of harm to people. A catastrophic tailings facility failure is not solely defined by loss of life. Though lives were not lost at Mount Polley, traditional custodians characterised the tailings facility failure at this operation as catastrophic. First Nations groups have expressed, quite publicly, that the damage to places of cultural and ecological significance and the associated loss and trauma from this event was catastrophic for theircommunities, with lasting effect. Some dam specialists have argued that the Mount Polley event should not be described as catastrophic because the consequences of the failure did not meet the necessary threshold in the engineering Consequence Classification tables. In their view, any application of the descriptor ‘catastrophic’ where lives were not lost serves no function other than to invoke unnecessary emotion. By contrast, we argue that the way a tailings facility failure is described or classified must be understood as a function of position, privilege, and perspective. Our experience of working in the area of mining and social performance is that there are often differences in how actors understand and interpret a supposedly ‘common’ event. Reconciling the professional and the personal, the cultural and the commercial, and the differences between local and global understandings of ‘development’ and ‘disaster’ is, we would argue, the essence of social performance work. This chapter explains how and why social performance work is critical to tailings facility management. It describes the logic that underpins the inclusion and integration of social performance elements throughout the Standard, and our work to ensure that these elements were stabilised during the various rounds of consultation and feedback. It also provides our perspective on what is needed to ensure the effective participation of social performance in the Standard’s implementation into the future.

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