Lessons to be Learned: What a Canadian Mining Disaster Can Teach Us

The British Columbia government has announced two reviews into the breach of a tailings pond dam at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine, which happened in early August, according to a University of British Columbia news article.

Werner Antweiler of the university’s Sauder School of Business shared his thoughts and some lessons to be learned from the catastrophe.

“It has been alleged that management at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine had decided to increase the mine’s output without fully understanding the limitations of the capacity of the tailings pond. There are reports that warnings from employees were ignored, as were concerns by the engineering firm that was involved in the original construction of the tailings pond. The picture that emerges is that the tailings pond may have exceeded its design capacity in recent months. It also appears that the company did not have an environmental emergency plan prepared in the event of a dam breach. These are matters that an investigation will have to verify, but they reveal the core management issues,” writes Antweiler.

Though Antweiler’s following recommendation is intended for mining operations, it can be widely applied to other scenarios. The key principles he’s talking about are most definitely useful.

Antweiler writes: “The most important lesson is that prevention is better and cheaper than disaster recovery. Monitoring of a tailings pond can provide early warning of an imminent breach, providing valuable time to react and take countermeasures. It is also highly advisable to have independent auditors provide environmental assessments from time to time. Such audits can often detect problems that go unnoticed internally, and suggest state-of-the-art solutions. Lastly, firms need to be prepared for a wider set of contingencies and prepare environmental emergency plans. Speedy intervention in case of an accident can often limit and contain the damage.”

Antweiler rounds off the piece with a note about risk management.

“Risk management is about limiting damage and liability. Many companies react instinctively by disclosing very little – lest it be used against them at a later point, especially in a legal case. On the other hand, emergency responders and affected populations demand timely and full disclosure of all relevant information. For this reason, preparing an environmental emergency plan is crucial.”

Takeaways:

  • Listen to employees’ warnings. How do you know they aren’t right?
  • Have an emergency plan in place. Risk management is key – have response procedures, train the necessary staff members, have a communication strategy for the event of a disaster.
  • Focus on disaster prevention. It’s better and cheaper than disaster recovery.
  • Depending on your area of business, if applicable, it would be wise to have independent auditors provide environmental assessments.

 

For more information, see the source article here: http://news.ubc.ca/2014/08/21/lessons-from-the-mount-polley-mine-disaster/