2020 – When the bottom-line impacts dam safety: Case studies of commercial realities leading to increased risks

James Thorp, Ryan Singh, Jiri Herza

Responsible management and operation of tailings and water storage facilities comprises a series of activities and projects that must be delivered within the commercial realities of the organisation and operation context of the facility owner. All projects are constrained by several variables, which are commonly represented by the Project Management Triangle of Scope, Time, and Cost. These variables are often finite and mutually exclusive, and delivery of the required outcome is accomplished by successfully managing each variable. The activities (variables) associated with the long-term dam safety are sometimes omitted to meet the immediate project requirements. In addition, the commercial realities, such as a selected project delivery model, can have a significant impact on dam safety risks through the allocation of risk, ability of the key decision makers, and the undue commercial pressures applied by each project delivery model. This paper presents several case studies where the project and commercial realities have led to decision making that impacted dam safety and increased the risk presented by the storage facility. While the immediate impact of these decisions may appear to be minimal, all stages of a tailings or water storage facility’s life span are impacted. This paper presents learnt lessons with the aim to prompt both owners and consultants to reconsider their commercial processes and project delivery strategies and limit unforeseen risks to the safety of tailings or water dams.

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