Jagersfontein highlights standards, engineering capacity, technical knowledge gaps – SAICE – Creamer Media's Mining Weekly

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Jagersfontein highlights standards, engineering capacity, technical knowledge gaps – SAICE
22nd September 2022

By: Schalk Burger
Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor
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Industry organisation the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) says the collapse of an embankment at the Jagersfontein mine’s tailings storage facility (TSF), in the Free State, has brought to light several underlying and significant concerns impacting the country’s tailings management and regulating environment.
Outdated standards and regulations on TSF management is one of the concerns that plagues the South African tailings industry. The current most relevant standard related to TSF design, operations, monitoring and maintenance is the South African Bureau of Standards Code of Practice for Mine Residue, SABS 0286, which was promulgated in 1998 following the Merriespruit TSF failure in 1994.
This document has served the industry well, but has not been updated since and remains the South African standard on the management of tailings facilities.
The SABS 0286 standard has recently been reviewed by an expert panel in collaboration with SAICE’s Geotechnical Division – Tailings subcommittee, to align it with international best practice in design, operation, monitoring and management of TSFs.
The review committee has compiled a draft updated standard which was submitted to the South African National Standards (SANS) committee for review.
“It is SAICE’s opinion that the vetting and approval of this document should be expedited and published without delay to ensure the standard of TSF management in South Africa aligns with international best practice,” the organisation says.
Further, the Jagersfontein TSF collapse has come at a time when the tailings industry worldwide is adjusting to the latest international standards as set out in the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM) which was published in August 2020. The GISTM provides a framework for safe TSF management of operational, decommissioned and closed tailings facilities with the aim of achieving zero harm to people and the environment.
Although many of South Africa’s tailings engineers and mine owners strive to adopt and conform to international best practices and standards, such as the GISTM, strict governance in this regard remains a concern and not all mines have formally adopted this standard.
“Limited information is currently available on the Jagersfontein TSF failure, and it is, therefore, not possible to speculate what led to the failure on that Sunday morning. It is hoped that this will come out of the investigations, and the industry will learn from it,” SAICE says.
Meanwhile, tailings engineering skills and capacity are at a critical shortage in the public sector, when it comes to TSF design, operation, monitoring and management. Engineers with the required knowledge and skills have not been employed by regulatory bodies that have oversight of these facilities, the organisation states.
“This means that deteriorating facilities can go unnoticed or unregulated for extended periods of time. This is of particular concern where tailings engineers from the private sector are not engaged by mining companies in the design and monitoring of a TSF,” the organisation highlights.
“Increasing the knowledge and expertise of engineers in the regulatory bodies that inspect residue or waste facilities, such as a TSF, can increase the competency of governance of these structures.”
Building capacity and expertise within the regulatory bodies and public sector should be a priority. However, this will take time, and government should work with the facility owners and the tailings industry as a whole to develop a robust short-term plan to evaluate the state of TSFs in South Africa, the institution recommends.
Further, SAICE says competent engineers should be involved throughout the entire lifecycle of a TSF. South Africa has world-class civil engineering professionals. The successful design, operation, monitoring and management of a TSF requires a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, who need to be intimately involved in how solutions are engineered for each TSF.
“SAICE contributes to change by providing knowledge and expertise to members of our professional institution through regular technical lectures and conferences and is available to offer its members expertise and skills to the public and private sectors through collaborative partnerships.
“The Tailings subcommittee can assist regulatory bodies and the Jagersfontein stakeholders by way of providing general advice on the investigation of such failures and recommend suitable tailings specialists to lead them. The findings and lessons should be made public and help to promote a safer future,” it points out.
Additionally, SAICE’s Water Division said the lessons of the Merriespruit disaster in 1994 may have been forgotten.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa’s promise to compensate the victims is commendable and this must be speedy.  A thorough and expeditious investigation is important to determine the causes of the disaster and ensure that justice is served.
“Responsible remedial action is required to render the site safe, enforce appropriate safety measures and actively maintain such measures to ensure a repeat incident does not occur.”
The findings from any investigation into the Jagersfontein disaster should be studied and as many lessons learned as possible to ensure that a similar disaster does not occur again, and that South Africa’s mining industry continue to strive to achieve the ultimate goal of zero harm to people and the environment, the institution adds.
SAICE calls for all stakeholders in the civil, mining and geotechnical engineering environments, across various sectors, to mobilise their resources, knowledge and engineering capacity to prevent such disasters in the future.
Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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