The Mining Association of Canada has released an updated version of its tailings management guide.

The new edition of A Guide to the Management of Tailings Facilities, announced Tuesday, has updates focusing on key tailings management components throughout a facility’s life cycle. These include change management, critical controls for risk management and performance evaluation.

The guide, first published in 1998 and last updated in 2011, forms the basis of the tailings management performance indicators in the association’s Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative. MAC requires that member companies operating in Canada be compliant with TSM and report on their performance. Currently 22 of 42 member companies report, representing 65 mining facilities and more than 48 tailings facilities.

Charles Dumaresq, MAC’s vice-president of science and environmental management, said the association wanted to “raise the bar” for the requirements needed for companies to achieve the highest two ratings, AA and AAA.

There is also careful attention paid to lessons learned after the tailings facility failures at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine in British Columbia and Vale and BHP’s Samarco mine in Brazil.

He said risk assessment is mentioned in many different places in the current edition of the new guide. “We felt this had to be elevated,” he said.

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Another element getting increased focus in the new guide is accountability. It is now recommended that the level of accountability for tailings management is raised from the COO or CEO to the highest level of the company: the board of directors.

MAC completed external and internal reviews in 2015 and 2016, respectively, of tailings management requirements and guidance. Opportunities for improvement were identified in both.

The independent task force commissioned by MAC offered 29 recommendations, with further areas for improvement suggested by an internal review group. All of these were incorporated when updating the Tailings Guide and the TSM Tailings Management Protocol. MAC’s board of directors officially approved the updates in June 2017.

Dumaresq said the changes to the guide do not require any capital investment to implement. “For the most part it would be improving the management approach,” he said.

The transition to the new guide will be phased in over a three-year period, with the goal of launching a new edition of the Operation, Maintenance and Surveillance Manual for tailings management in fall 2018. An additional MAC guide on tailings management, the audit and assessment guide, is being discontinued and replaced with a table of conformance in the main guide.

In late October a United Nations report on mine tailings disasters urged mining companies to focus on safety rather than cost when making decisions about tailings facilities.

And last December, the International Council on Mining and Metals also updated its principles on tailings management, and committed its 23 member companies to implement them in full and report on their progress each year.