How to make mining palatable?
Impose ISO-like mechanism to enhance accountabilityBy Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer Northern Luzon
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—The mining industry’s biggest problem isn’t whether it follows the rules but that people do not believe it does good.
So industry giants have trained their sights on a mining performance standard devised by a copper mining firm that would measure a company’s risk and performance and its impact on safety, health and the environment of its host community.
Dr. Keith Halford, a consultant of the Carmen Copper Corp. in Cebu, proposed at the 58th Annual National Mine Safety and Environment Conference here to institutionalize a work certification process similar to what the ISO [International Organization of Standards] enforces.
He says this would enable the industry to offer mine towns genuine evidence of how a mine company operates.
“In recent times, the Philippine mining industry has come under considerable and increasing pressure from some influential and interested elements of society. Whether warranted or not, much of the focus against the industry has been targeted at the industry’s environmental performance and whether the industry is upholding its corporate social responsibility (CSR) requirements,” Halford states in his paper.
He continues: “To date, much of the industry’s defense against these accusations has been based on perceived compliance to legislation. How do you prove this? Is meeting the basic legislative requirements enough to change the minds of detractors?”
Halford says mining firms must understand that professing to follow government regulations “is an outdated [defense against critics] and [is] no longer feasible.”
“The communities are smarter than that and getting [even] smarter every day,” he says.
Instead, the industry should consider self-regulation guided by a mutually accepted standard for managing “the environment, health, safety, and corporate responsibility that is custom-built to suit a company’s size and logistics,” Halford says.
An integrated management standard for mining “ensures [that] the risks associated with this vast operation will be effectively minimized and managed,” he says.
The standard developed by Carbon Copper Corp. took the best aspects of ISO 14001 (environment), OSHAS18001 (safety and health), ISO 31000 (risk management), and proposed Standard ISO 26000 (social responsibility), according to Halford’s paper.
But the Carmen Copper standard, which would be enforced next year, also takes into account other aspects of mine life that companies rarely measure.
For example, Carmen Copper has amended how it would end its mine life based on its proposed integrated management standard, Halford says.
“Much of the planning and design historically conducted in the mining industry has been based on engineering (civil, mechanical and electrical), geological and financial principles… But other factors not normally part of `mainstream’ mining practice should also be considered in mine closure planning—geomorphology processes and ecological and human use principles,” he further states.
“Because a mine site’s existence after closure is infinitely longer than its life during operations, the closure objectives for residual landforms at the site should be based on sound ecological and sustainable development principles as well as the potential land use aspiration by the communities and landowners where the operation exists.”
Even transparency is a premium for the proposed industry standard. Halford says Carmen Copper planned to release annual public reports of the company’s safety, health and environment projects.
He adds that large-scale mines must agree that “ensuring you have a certified system is a definitive defense against allegations or criticism… But most importantly, you are reducing the risk of harm to your employees, the environment and the community.”
“Even if you may not be performing to expectations, you have a certified process that can demonstrate you are continuously improving. If you don’t improve, you lose certification,” Halford says.
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