Mine Tailings Landscape: A Review of Guidelines, Initiatives, and Standards

Published: October 18,2019

This 2019 study of approximately 30 guidance documents, project initiatives and standards from around the world was undertaken by GMG and Cambrian College. It offers an understanding of existing practices and initiatives covering mine tailings throughout the global mining industry.


GMPA have begun working on their new initiative to examine tailings from the standpoint of disposal and closure. In addition, they are seeking information regarding tailings management and tailings reprocessing and repurposing in order to move towards the elimination of tailings. In the months to come, GMPA is set to collaborate with multiple member associations by developing working groups to address the various issues regarding tailings management in existing facilities as well as ways to reduce and eliminate the current surface of tailings facilities. Their aim is to create a Global Action on Tailings website where they will display research, case studies and best practices.

With the goal of reducing the likelihood of potentially lethal accidents, the Church of England Pensions Board and Swedish National Pension Funds’ Council of Ethics requested that mining companies disclose data regarding mine tailings dams, which have historically been kept private. Using this data, GRID-Arendal has developed and launched the world’s first public database of mine tailings dams and storage facilities, which contains easily searchable and extremely detailed information on over 1700 mine tailings dams worldwide. The Global Tailings Portal is intended for widespread use, targeting insurers, scientists, governments, the media, the mining industry, the finance community, and civil society alike. https://www.grida.no/activities/461

This document has been made through the input of multiple member countries and as such presents a range of international approaches. It is intended to provide guidance to mine operators, owners, designers and regulators on closure considerations for design at all stages of the tailings dam. This bulletin highlights the specific aspects that require special consideration when a sustainable design life of 1,000 years or more is adopted. The bulletin contains the following three main sections: sustainable closure principles, sustainable design considerations and monitoring. https://www.icold-cigb.org/GB/publications/bulletins.asp

The Cyanide Code is a voluntary industry program created to assist and improve the gold and silver mining industries’ cyanide management practices. The intent of the code is to reduce the potential exposure of workers and communities to harmful concentrations of cyanide‚ to limit releases of cyanide to the environment‚ and to enhance response actions in the event of an exposure or release. This code was developed by the UNEP and ICME in 2000 at an international workshop in Paris. It exclusively focuses on the safe management of cyanide that is produced, transported and used for the recovery of gold and silver, and on mill tailings and leach solutions. It also includes the following topics: production, transport, storage, and use of cyanide and the decommissioning of cyanide facilities, financial assurance, accident prevention, emergency response, training, public reporting, stakeholder involvement and verification procedures. The code includes nine principles, all of which have a specific standard of practice recommended.

The principles included are:

  • Production
  • Transportation
  • Handling and storage
  • Operations
  • Decommissioning
  • Worker safety
  • Emergency response
  • Training and dialogue


This bulletin is intended to provide information regarding tailings properties and identifies the benefits and limitations of technologies for designers, owners, regulators, communities and various organizations. It provides updates in terms of tailings properties and technologies related to their dewatering and disposal, along with the associated dams and containment structures with its focus on the technical design of the confining dams. The objective is to improve the management of tailings dams. This bulletin recognizes that there is no one size fits all approach to the design of tailings dams, thus it must account for site-specific conditions. The main sections of the bulletin are:

  • Tailings properties
  • Tailings technologies
  • Tailings dam design practices


This guide is aimed to assist new owners of tailings dams (new and existing dams) in developing countries regarding operation, maintenance, and rehabilitation of tailings facilities. Recommendations are based the experiences of other organizations or countries, including 28 participating countries. The recommendations presented in this guideline focus on the following aspects:

  • Responsibilities
  • Communications
  • Organizational structures
  • Routine maintenance
  • Minor repairs
  • Major rehabilitation
  • Inspection
  • Monitoring
  • Unusual events
  • Emergency action plans
  • Public relations


This bulletin develops and implements dam safety management systems in the operation phase. It includes the general structure of a systems approach to safety management and strives to develop a system that can address all the interdependencies and encompass all the arrangements necessary to ensure proper dam safety management. The main aspects highlighted in this bulletin are as follows: overarching principles of dam safety, dam safety management systems, organizational arrangements and dam safety activities. The intent of this document is to help develop, implement, review and improve the management of dam safety at all organizational levels.


Dr. Bruno Oberle spearheaded the Global Tailings Review over 18 months, with ICMM, UNEP (The United Nations Environment Programme) and PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment) as co-conveners. The goal is to discover global best practices in relation to mine tailings by looking at past lessons learned. The three stages are as follows:

  • Visiting communities that live near tailings facilities and evaluating best practices
  • Conducting a broad consultation
  • Developing international standards for tailings storage facilities

The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management includes the following aspects:

  • A global and transparent consequence-based tailings facility classification system with appropriate requirements for each level of classification, including affected communities
  • A system for credible, independent reviews of tailings facilities
  • Requirements for emergency planning and preparedness, as well as management and governance
  • Requirements for design, construction, operation, and monitoring

The objective is to strengthen and apply the focus on the following six managerial principles in order to minimize the risk of failure to tailings storage facilities. The six key principles include:

  • Accountability, Responsibility and Competency
  • Planning and Resourcing
  • Risk Management
  • Change Management
  • Emergency preparedness and Response
  • Review and insurance


These two projects are under the technical committee of Mine Closure and Reclamation Management. The target of these developing projects is to provide standards regarding mine closure and reclamation management to minimize the impacts caused by mines during the closure lifecycle (exploration, extraction, suspension of operation, mine closure, reclamation, and follow-up management). The aim is to re-establish mine closure planning at every stage for sustainable resource development and risk management; however, these standards are likely to exclude safety and health issues related to workplace activity.


This standard sets out the requirements for an environmental management system, by helping organizations identify, manage, monitor and control their environmental issues in a holistic manner. This standard includes the need for organizations to be continually improving their management systems and environmental concerns. Some of the key elements this standard requires are a greater commitment from leadership, implementation of proactive actions, a focus of the entire life cycle, a stakeholder-focused communication strategy and ultimately for environmental management to become a greater priority within the organization. Some of the key intended outcomes of implementing this standard include:

  • Enhancement of environmental performance
  • Fulfilment of compliance obligations
  • Achievement of environmental objectives

This standard can be used by any organization and once adopted, an independent certification body would audit the practices against those of the standard and if cleared they can become ISO 14001 certified. Adopting such a standard and specifically becoming certified has proven to be beneficial for mining organizations given that it reduces environmental risks and liability, improves awareness, creates cost savings and lowers insurance cost.


This report has been developed to encourage targeted action at the policy and technical level to make zero catastrophic incidents become a reality and ensure that economic prosperity is fully compatible with community health and safety. In doing so, the report makes two central recommendations, the first being to take a safety-first approach in management actions and on the ground operations. The second is to establish a UN Environment stakeholder forum to facilitate the international strengthening of tailings dam regulations. It also identifies three actions to improve regulation and practice: facilitate international cooperation on mining regulation and the safe storage of mine tailings through a knowledge hub, failure prevention and crisis response. In addition, the report discusses how mining firms can adopt cleaner processes, new technologies and re-use materials in order to reduce waste. The two technological advances discussed are bioleaching and smart sensors for monitoring.



The code of practice is a guide to achieving the standards required under legislation. It covers all aspects of the lifecycle, such as site selection, design, construction, operation, monitoring and surveillance, emergency response planning, management or rehabilitation of TSFs and as such should be used by anyone responsible for those aspects. It also can be applied to supervisors, TSF personnel, and safety and health representatives who need to understand the hazards and environmental requirements associated with constructing, operating and decommissioning TSFs. The code includes references to both mandatory and voluntary actions.


These guidelines provided by ANCOLD are an updated version of the previous guidelines on tailings management, the new version pays special attention to risk through all aspects of the life cycle and designing for closure and post-closure. These guidelines are intended to provide a single base document that supports other similar documents. The main sections of the document are:

  • Key management considerations
  • Tailings storage methods and deposition principles
  • Characterization and behaviour of tailings
  • Design tailings storage capacity and water management and embankment
  • Construction
  • Operation and closure.


This program was developed to assist the mining sector in the reduction of their impact on the environment and the surrounding communities. The program discusses a systematic, risk-based approach to tailings management while providing principles for management during all phases of the life cycle. The program is designed for mine operators; however, it can also be used for interested parties such as governments, mining consultants, environmental officers or non-governmental organizations. The aspects involved in this program include:

  • A broad sustainable development framework to tailings management
  • A life-of-mine risk-based approach to tailings management
  • Future directions for leading practice tailings management

Leading practice tailings management relating to the design, operation and closure.


The purpose of this guideline is to describe good practices of construction and management of referable dams and to assist owners on how to safely manage their dams and protect the environment and surrounding community. The dam safety management program’s intent is to minimize any risks associated with the dam and any possible failures. The guideline is aimed for referable dam owners, operators, employers and consultants. Even though this guideline has been made specifically for referable dams it can be used to develop a dam safety management plan for other dams. The program involves many components including:

  • Investigation
  • Design, and Construction Documentation including Data Book, Design Report and As-Constructed Details (or Construction Report)
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Detailed Operating and Maintenance Manuals (DOMMs)
  • Inspection and Evaluation Reports, Dam Safety Review Report and an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)


Mets Ignited and the Queensland Government are collaborating on a clustering initiative that will deliver collaborative solutions to key mining industry challenges in Queensland. These take place in the form of workshops that contain panel discussions and presentations and are held annually. The initiative was launched in 2018 and was met with significant attendance and interest from METS, mining companies, research institutions and government and industry bodies all of which discussed possible themes relevant to the expertise in the region. Later that year two more workshops were launched to discuss social license and digital solutions for resources. The latest cluster workshop was held in 2019 and key topics were robotics and automation, digital and data analytics and tailings and mine affected water.




In conjunction with its members and associate members, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance has developed a series of guidelines pertaining to fluid fine tailings management. COSIA has a primary focus on oilsands tailings, but their guidelines may be applicable to other commodities. To date, COSIA has covered topics such as performance management, tailing deposit sampling, and determining fluid tailings volumes, among others.

Tailings Research: https://cosia.ca/research/tailings
Fluid fine tailings (not very detailed, a line or two and then link to PDF) https://www.cosia.ca/node/57
PDF Doc: https://www.cosia.ca/uploads/documents/id7/TechGuideFluidTailingsMgmt_Aug2012.pdf

These guidelines are an updated version of dam safety principles requested by CDA members. The new version endorses a risk-informed approach which includes traditional deterministic standards-based analysis as one of many considerations. The Guidelines consist of principles can be applied to all dams, and an outline of processes and criteria for suggested management of dam safety in accordance with the principles.


This document can be applied by both MAC and non-MAC members. The purpose is to provide assistance on best practices for a safe, environmentally and socially responsible management of tailings facilities during the lifecycle. The three main purposes are:

  • To provide a framework for the management of tailings
  • To help the owners of tailings facilities create a management system that meets the criteria for safety
  • To increase the regularity of applying the management principles

The framework provides owners with the basis for implementing site-specific tailings management.

The elements include:

  • Policy and commitment
  • Planning
  • Implementing the tailings management framework
  • Performance evaluation
  • Management review for continual improvement

Another important aspect involved in this document is the risk-based approach, which includes identifying the potential physical and chemical risks that may occur during the lifecycle. The potential risks should be known during the project conception and planning and be continuously updated during the lifecycle along with any new technological advances (BAT). MAC has developed a checklist to help uncover gaps and deficiencies within tailings management with specifications in the existing procedures, identifying training requirements, obtaining permits, conducting internal audits, and aiding conformance and due diligence, at any phase of the lifecycle.

OMS is used in conjuncture to the Tailings Guide to allow for the set-out framework to function. This guide provides guidance for site-specific operations, surveillance and maintenance for tailings facilities during development and execution. It is intended to improve risk management, increase the performance of tailings facilities, achieve the intended design, meet the legal requirements, corporate policy and make commitments to communities of interest (COI).


TSM is mandatory for all MAC members in Canada. The three key areas they focus on are:

  • Community
  • Environment
  • Energy

The program sets up a set of expectations that companies will be judged against in order to achieve a higher standard. They have six protocols that address some of the main issues that mining companies have, one of which is tailings management. These are developed on a scale from C, B, A, AA and AAA, with AAA representing the best practice. The performance indicators that must be meet in order to receive a high level are as follows:

  • Tailings management policy and commitment
  • Tailings management system and emergency preparedness
  • Assigned accountability and responsibility for tailings management
  • Annual tailings management review
  • Operation, maintenance, and surveillance (OMS) manual

This protocol is supported by both the Tailings Guide and the OMS Guide documents.


European Union

These guidelines were developed by the Joint Expert Group on Water and Industrial Accidents, with the support of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). It was created to assist in the management of tailings facilities for the public, operators and ECE member countries. The intent of applying these good practice guidelines is that it will limit the number of accidents at these facilities as well as lessen the severity of the impacts. The document includes two aspects, the recommendations and the technical and organizational aspects. The recommendations include safety principles and guidance to member countries, authorities and operators. The technical and organizational aspects include the lifecycle of the mining facility and proper procedures.


Stings is an innovation project that ran from April 2017 to September 2020. With the aim of developing a ground and space-borne remote sensing and analysis system that will be cost efficient in order to monitor the ground infrastructure stability in tailings dams.

The project objective is to increase the safety standards in regard to tailing facilities by creating a tool that will provide guidance on environmental impacts from tailings dams. By implementing Stings, it will provide extended monitoring and an early warning system for the identification of risks. The project offers a unique information service to identify risks, prevent disasters and to capture previously undetected secondary values. The monitoring system will have different sensors and focus on multiple information such as physical stability as well as chemical and mineralogical content.

This guide aims to provide technical information regarding the best available technologies (BAT) available in relation to mine waste. It is designed for industries, competent authorities and other relevant stakeholders with the intention of providing them with up-to-date information and data on the management of extractive waste. By providing such information the intent is to reduce the effects to human health and the environment brought about by the management of the extraction of waste. The information covered in this guide is as follows:

  • General information and key figures on extractive industries in Europe
  • Extractive waste generation
  • Extractive waste facilities and key environmental issues
  • Applied processes and techniques for the management of extractive waste
  • Emission and consumption levels resulting from the management of extractive waste
  • Techniques to consider in the determination of best available techniques and emerging techniques.


United States

The focus of this paper is on project risk management techniques used for new dams and dam rehabilitation projects. The aspects discussed in this document are:

  • Formal Risk Management process
  • Risk categories for dam construction
  • Strategies to manage risks
  • Several case studies where risk management strategies were employed

The recommended risk management strategies are: avoid, mitigate, transfer and share. This document is intended for dam owners, contractors and engineers who are involved in the planning, design and construction of a dam. The aim is to assist the industry gain insight into the importance of proper project risk management for dams throughout the course of the project.

The aim is to provide protection to Alaskan life and property through the effective collection, evaluation, understanding and sharing of the information necessary to identify, estimate, and mitigate the risks created by tailings dams. The program is an effort between the ADNR and other involved parties that are involved throughout the lifecycle. The guidelines serve as a communication tool to foster cooperation between all the parties to allow for optimal results.

Aspects involved in the guidelines include the lifecycle of mine tailings including regulations and certificates of approval, inspection reports and emergency action plans.


These guidelines are used to promote management practices for dam safety for all Federal agencies that are responsible for a mine’s lifecycle. The intent of the guidelines is to obtain a common approach to dam safety practices and to encourage high safety standards. The guidelines include aspects such as:

  • Dam site investigation
  • Design
  • Construction
  • Operation and maintenance
  • Risk and failure assessment
  • Emergency preparedness

Even though the guidelines are currently applied by Federal dams, the objective is to encourage state dam safety agencies and private dam owners to adopt these guidelines and become more safety conscious.


Copyright © 2023 Global Mining Guidelines Group