The Devil’s in the data

Online Editor

Mark Holmes presents the mining industry’s latest safety data and explains that despite a welcome improvement in performance, continued vigilance is needed.

Safe working conditions are a fundamental human right at the heart of every responsible mining company. The International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) members share an unwavering commitment to the health and safety of employees and are working to eliminate fatalities, towards a goal of zero harm. Regrettably, fatalities do continue to occur, and in 2020, 44 workers from ICMM member companies lost their lives. A single fatality is one too many and as an industry we must do better. We believe everyone has a role to play to make sure that workers return home safely.


Since 2012, ICMM has transparently measured and disclosed the safety performance of company members through an annual safety data benchmarking report. This report aims to catalyse learning across the industry and transparently show where ICMM members are in their journey towards eliminating fatalities. Over time, this data has informed leadership discussions about the step change required to reach this goal and supports an evidence-based approach to ICMM’s work on health and safety.

As a commitment of ICMM membership, companies are also required to report their safety data in their annual sustainability reports in line with Global Reporting Indicators (GRI) reporting requirements. By collating ICMM company member data in this report we can present the data in a much more comparable way using a common set of indicators.

2020 Safety Data

Regrettably, 44 fatalities occurred across ICMM company members in 2020. This compares to 287 in 2019, which includes the 250 lives lost in the tragic Brumadinho tailings dam collapse, and 50 fatalities recorded in 2018.

The report analyses fatalities based on the cause (or ‘hazard’) and provides safety performance metrics by county and company. In 2020, 12 fatalities were caused by ‘fall of ground’ incidents, and eight were related to mobile equipment and transportation. Company member operations in South Africa had the highest fatality rate of 0.052, recording 22 fatalities from 422.1 million hours worked. Operations in Indonesia recorded six fatalities and Brazil four, where 80.6 and 353.3 million hours were worked, respectively.  In 2020, 12 members reported zero fatalities, including Antofagasta Minerals, BHP, Hydro, JX Nippon, Minera San Cristobal, Minsur, MMG, Newcrest, Newmont, Rio Tinto, Sumitomo Metal Mining and Teck Resources.

This data on fatalities is in stark comparison with total recordable injury statistics. There was a 10% decrease in the number of total recordable injuries 2019 to 2020, with the overall injury rate decreased from 3.20 in 2019 to 2.94 in 2020.

Responding To Key Industry Challenges

This data informs leadership discussions about the step change required to reach the goal of zero fatalities and supports an evidence-based approach to ICMM’s programmatic focus on health and safety. Recently this has included our action on tailings, critical control management and the Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) initiative, detailed below.

Year on year, between 30-40% of all fatalities in the mining and metals industry are the consequence of inadequate vehicle interaction controls, and amongst ICMM members, vehicle interactions were the highest cause of fatalities in 2018. In response, ICMM launched the ICSV initiative, which brings together ICMM’s 28 member companies and 19 OEMs to collaborate in a non-competitive space to accelerate the development of a new generation of cleaner, safer mining vehicles. The initiative works towards the achievement of three ambitions: introduction of greenhouse gas emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040; minimising the operational impact of diesel exhaust by 2025; and making vehicle collision avoidance technology available to mining companies by 2025.

Published in 2020, The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management requires companies to increase the integration of social and environmental considerations across the entire lifecycle of each tailings facility. ICMM members have committed that all facilities with ‘Extreme’ or ‘Very high’ potential consequences will be in conformance with the Standard by August 2023, and all other facilities by August 2025. ICMM has also launched a Tailings management: good practice guide that aims to promote good governance and engineering practices that support continuous improvement in the management of new and existing tailings facilities, and to strengthen the ‘safety culture’ within companies.

One of the key strategies developed to by the industry to focus on the elimination of fatalities and catastrophic events is critical control management (CCM). This is based on the principle that not all controls are crucial, but rather companies should focus on systematically identifying, assessing, implementing and evaluating those controls that are essential to the prevention of fatal or catastrophic events. Although CCM is well documented in many high hazard industries, ICMM produced the first consolidated framework for the mining and metals sector that provides advice on how to implement the approach.

Effective benchmarking is an important device for driving performance improvement and a trigger for important conversations across the industry. The data also helps ICMM to identify the most effective opportunities for collaboration on critical sector challenges such as on tailings and vehicle safety. This platform of information sharing and learning has continued to support members through the unprecedented challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic where the health and safety of workers and local communities is paramount.

Everyone in the industry has a role to play in eliminating fatalities. Only by working together can this be achieved.

Mark Holmes manages the ICMM's health & safety work

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