The International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) has announced that it is working with two bodies, the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the United National Environment Programme (UNEP), to conduct a review into international standards of tailings storage facilities.

The review will aim to establish an international standard for tailings dams to improve the safety of mine waste storage facilities across the world. Those involved in the review hope their global reach will help standardise the quality of tailings dams; the ICMM has 27 member companies, including Anglo American and Rio Tinto, while PRI is represented in this review by the Church of England and the Swedish Council of Ethics.

The process will see the creation of an advisory panel, consisting of non-governmental organisations, international bodies and investors, in order to involve as many groups and voices in the decision-making process as possible.

Professor Bruno Oberle, academic director of the International Risk Governance Center at L’Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, will chair the review. The review is a response to recent disasters such as the collapse of a Vale dam in Brazil, which flooded the town of Brumadinho with 12 million cubic metres of mining waste, and is believed to have killed around 300 people.

“This is a demanding role and we have a responsibility to the people of Brumadinho to get this right,” said Oberle. “My objective is clear: I will oversee a comprehensive review of the current situation and draw up a new international standard for tailings storage facilities that draws on the best practice from around the globe.”

Tailings dams continue to be one of the most dangerous elements of mining operations, with World Mine Tailings Failures, a body that records data on accidents, reporting 75 failures at tailings dams across the world between 1998 and 2017.

These accidents are also becoming more severe, with the number of deaths at tailings dams jumping from 52 fatalities between 1998 to 2007 to 435 in the following decade; the Brumadinho disaster alone, not counted among these figures, has killed more people than died in all tailings accidents between 1988 and 2007. The groups involved hope the review will help reverse this trend.

“The new standard that the review agrees will be mandatory for ICMM members and adopted at all their operational assets globally,” said ICMM CEO Tom Butler. “I hope that non-members will sign up to the standard too.”