Africa’s mining industry has been encouraged to closer monitor the lessons still being learned from Brazil’s highly public and fatal tailings dam failures, so as not to repeat the same risk factors in negotiating new or renegotiating historic mine risk and rehabilitation agreements.

Herbert Smith Freehills’ Director – Africa Group, Dr Matthew Burnell, said that post the recent catastrophic Brazilian dam failures, there was an emerging and increased risk awareness across the more mature mining jurisdictions in southern Africa particularly, around past, present and future ownership and management of mine tailings dams.

“We are seeing increased and elevated fiduciary assessments by mining board Directors of the risk integrity of their company’s exposure to dam incidents,” Dr Burnell said.

“There is a growing consolidation of the legal, corporate and social requirements that miners can now be expected to apply to the management of tailings dams regardless of whether they are current or former dam owners,” he said.

“This consolidation includes pulling together the legislative risks and possible opportunities to mitigate these risks in respect of existing and historical dams, contractual legacy claims, claims against sub-contractors, what insurance provisions were or are in effect and their adequacy, indemnity agreements for Directors and whether they are relevant or sufficient, and a revision and update of any existing emergency incident plans.

“We are also seeing in Africa post Brazil, a heightened awareness of the limitations on some financial provisions and this is leading to some revision of mine closure plans.

“Critically, this should see in time for any African incident, a better management of an incident, from notification of stakeholders through to immediate mitigation measures, long-term corrective measures for a failed dam and long-term monitoring and preventative measures.”

Dr Burnell noted that this elevated top of mind awareness came at a time African miners, like their counterparts in other major jurisdictions, were also having to come to terms with emerging risks regarding the resilience of mines to climate change and how the introduction of new technology may impact on the mental well-being of employees in the mining sector and job security.

There is also increasing intense public focus on mine waste supply chains, and social pressures on boards and management from shareholders and pressure groups to adopt heightened climate change protocols separate to the framework and contractual obligations under which a mine may have historically or about to be, established.