2016 – Would Bowties and Critical Controls Contribute to the Prevention of High Consequence / Low Frequency Dam Failures?

Russell Mills PhD,Rebecca Freeman, Malcolm Barker

The global mining industry lives with the risk of catastrophic events such as water storage or tailings dam failures as part of its daily operations, and has developed a number of approaches to enable mine management to understand the nature of the risks and the ways in which they are being managed. One such approach involves the use of bowties for the understanding of the hazards and risks. Building from bowties, the second approach involves the selection and management of controls critical to the prevention or mitigation of the catastrophic event. The Australian mining industry is a world leader in this regard and the purpose of this paper is to illustrate how bowties are constructed, how risks can be semi-quantitatively estimated, how critical controls are selected and managed, and how, if all this is done well, risks can be demonstrated to be as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP).

This paper sets out key themes and presents an example for a tailings dam failure to illustrate the role of bowties and critical controls in management of catastrophic events. It will also highlight the role of bowties in the anticipated introduction of a Safety Case approach to dam risk management. Bowties provide a useful tool for the transfer of risk management knowledge from the designer, to allow dam owner / operators to better understand their risks and to recognise the link between design and operational controls and how they are used to manage those risks to ALARP.

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