1.2 The role of monitoring and auditing in leading practice

1.2 The role of monitoring and auditing in leading practice

In the simplest terms, monitoring and auditing help a mining company achieve good sustainable development performance by ensuring that processes and procedures are in place to track specific social and environmental values and to verify that those processes and procedures are functioning effectively. In broad terms, this can involve tracking progress over time, determining whether agreed objectives or standards have been met, and benchmarking procedures and performance against those of other mining operations.

What is ‘monitoring and auditing’?

Monitoring is the gathering, analysis and interpretation of information for the assessment of performance. Examples commonly used in the resources industry include monitoring of water quality; impacts on flora and fauna (as well as recovery following the implementation of control or rehabilitation measures); social aspects and community development; air quality; noise; vibration; greenhouse gas emissions; and the extent to which rehabilitation and final land-use objectives are being met.

Auditing is systematically reviewing monitoring procedures and results, and checking that all commitments have been fulfilled or completed by comparing the audit findings against agreed audit criteria. Auditing can be undertaken internally, by experts in specific disciplines who provide a check on methods or success against internal company standards, or externally, by an independent consultant or expert who can demonstrate transparency and add value to the audit process.

In any leading practice environmental management program, the elements of monitoring and auditing for evaluating performance are inextricably linked. This is illustrated in Figure 1. Planning is a critical initial component in establishing lead practice performance. The typical plan/do-check-act approach is also an integral part of the performance schematic.

Figure 1: Leading practice performance evaluation

Figure 1: Leading practice performance evaluation

Source: David Donato, Donato Environmental Services.

Significant components or potential impacts that need to be monitored and managed at key stages of the mine’s life are identified at the development stage of a greenfield mining project. This is usually done using a risk-based approach that incorporates the following elements.

  • Regulatory requirements are identified to define the minimum standard of achievement for environmental protection and associated monitoring.
  • Baseline studies are used to identify pre-mining environmental, social and economic values and impacts and to establish monitoring and management programs. This enables companies to commence long- term planning for sustainable development and mine closure before any project-related impacts occur and to develop robust and defensible closure performance criteria.
  • An environmental and social impact assessment is conducted to enable regulators and other stakeholders to review predicted impacts and proposed mitigation measures. This must be a transparent process based on both good science and extensive consultation, and conducted using an agreed risk management and sustainable development approach.
  • Company risk management frameworks are defined to identify potentially ‘significant’ residual risks so that control measures can be developed and applied and the success of their implementation can be evaluated.
  • A budget and estimation of time should be allocated to ensure that the requisite monitoring has been incorporated into the overall business and operational plans for the operation.
  • Internal company standards and procedures are applied to ensure that the corporate objectives are clear and provide a minimum standard of environmental protection for individual sites to attain.
  • Leading practice guidelines from Australia and overseas, such as the International Council on Mining and Metals principles (ICMM 2003), provide guidance, case studies and frameworks for planning.
  • Ongoing monitoring programs are established to assess performance through time against specified objectives. Together with research programs, ongoing monitoring enables continuous improvement by providing information to guide future adjustments that may need to be made to monitoring and environmental management. Rigorous and timely review of the data collected by a monitoring program is critical to ensure both that advance warning is provided of developing issues and that the content of the monitoring program remains relevant.
  • Because every mining project and community is different, ongoing research is conducted to address gaps in knowledge and to develop innovative solutions to emerging challenges. The use of research findings to improve the effectiveness of monitoring is a key element of the continuous improvement loop that comprises leading practice.
  • Audits are used to evaluate compliance with regulatory requirements, company standards and/or other adopted systems and benchmarks. This helps industry to demonstrate its performance to stakeholders and encourages continuous improvement. Transparent communication of these findings is an important element of a leading practice monitoring and performance evaluation system. When audits of monitoring programs identify gaps in knowledge or inadequacies in control measures, they enable monitoring programs to be improved.

Often, these elements are part of an environmental management system (EMS) that complies with AS/ NZS ISO 14001:2004 Environmental management systems—requirements with guidance for use. An EMS helps the company to achieve leading practice by providing a framework for the development and regular review of procedures used to assess, mitigate and manage environmental impacts. The elements also apply to monitoring and auditing the performance of brownfield sites. Some adaptions may be needed depending on the site and its context, including the physical and social aspects, the age of the mine, key risks or issues and the historical evolution of the site and its ownership.

Leading practice often also includes a social management system (SMS), which guides the implementation and regular review of procedures to assess, mitigate and manage social impacts. While there is no certifiable standard in accordance with which such a system can be developed, it follows much the same structure as an EMS, but is based on key social rather than environmental themes, such as human rights; community investment and development; land access and acquisition; resettlement; cultural awareness and heritage; local employment; local procurement; social impact management; and stakeholder engagement. Generally, an SMS will include a policy and set of standards, along with guidelines for the implementation, monitoring and assessment of those standards and a regular audit and review process.

This handbook describes how mining companies integrate all of these elements over the life of the mining operation to achieve leading practice sustainable development. The handbook outlines the key principles and procedures now recognised as leading practice for monitoring and auditing to evaluate performance: assessing and managing environmental, social or economic values, and identifying, minimising and managing any primary, secondary or cumulative impacts on those values. Leading practice requires the principles to be addressed over the whole potential project sphere of influence, always in consultation with government and other key stakeholders, and often in partnership with non-government organisations.

A number of case studies are used to illustrate and reinforce the approaches outlined in the handbook.

Most of the environmental, economic and social aspects discussed in the handbook are relevant to both open-cut and underground mines. However, it should be noted that some issues specific to underground mines, such as subsidence, underground coal gasification and geothermal aspects, are beyond the scope of the handbook. For sites where there may be risks associated with such issues, readers are urged to consult other relevant publications and information sources. Occupational health and safety matters are also not covered, except where they are directly relevant to the implementation of monitoring and auditing procedures.

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