by Andrew Parsons
Leading mining and metals companies are committed to continuous improvement of their sustainable development performance. Strengthening, advancing and promoting comprehensive safety and emergency measures is crucial to this commitment.
Mines and mineral processing and metal fabricating facilities are large and complex operations that involve workers and interact with neighbouring communities and the environment in similarly multifaceted ways. Notwithstanding the ongoing design and application of measures to ensure these interactions are positive and safe, the mining and metals industry recognises that none of its operations can ever be completely free of risk. Similarly, the industry acknowledges that if an accident were to occur, it could affect the environment and communities beyond the boundaries of the operation
In the event of an accident, communities can be affected by direct exposure, or psychologically by fear of unknown impacts. Both real impacts and fears can be signifi cantly lessened if local communities and emergency services are adequately informed of potential risks and briefed on how to respond. More importantly and beyond one-way communication, if an emergency response plan is to be successful, neighbouring communities, regional emergency services and site operators need to work collaboratively to design the necessary steps and their application. Recent, well publicised accidents have shown there is considerable scope for improving performance.
The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the representative body for many of the world’s leading mining and metals companies and associations, is working in partnership with UNEP to promote the adoption of good practices in the awareness, preparedness and response to emergencies in this sector, as set out in the Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level (APELL) process. UNEP developed APELL in partnership with industry associations, communities and governments to provide a structured process for including communities in the development and implementation of emergency response plans.
In 2001 the International Council on Metals and the Environment – ICMM’s predecessor – and UNEP co-published “APELL for Mining”. For the fi rst time it provided guidance on the application of APELL in the mining sector. The current collaboration between ICMM and UNEP will extend this work by contributing more detailed guidance and practical experience through case studies.
The overall aim is to help companies and neighbouring communities prepare for and respond to the risks associated with mining and metals facilities, transportation of chemicals and other products to and from these facilities, natural disasters, and other hazards.
ICMM and UNEP will be publishing a compilation of case studies, “Involving the Neighbours in Emergency Planning”, in mid-2005.
The publication will help companies develop appropriate local emergency management plans that are consistent with local, regional, national and international regulatory requirements. In addition, it will provide companies with examples of good practice and lessons learnt which demonstrate the practical application of engaging and involving communities in emergency preparedness. Finally, it will seek to broaden understanding of what companies need to do, in partnership with local emergency response services and the community, in the event of an emergency or disaster.
Andrew Parsons is Director of Environment, Health and Safety Programme at the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICCM).