Fraser Alexander’s strategy has evolved to leverage technology to manage one of the industry’s key concerns – the risk posed by tailings facilities.

There has been a significant shift in the mining industry’s reliance on technology and digital readiness for the future. Fraser Alexander believes that the mining industry’s digital aspirations will see a move from its current position as a ‘digital native’, to a ‘digital adopter’ and finally a ‘digital leader’ within the next three to five years.

This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2021
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Fraser Alexander realises the benefits of leveraging technology to differentiate and improve current service offerings, improve business and customer risk as well as optimise costs, says Kamal Mistry, Digitalisation Specialist at Fraser Alexander.

However, it is vital to understand that being sustainably relevant to stakeholders and the industry is not simply about adopting technology, but rather about creating a methodology that benefits the change in customer needs and compliance requirements as well as staying up-to-date with the latest technological developments.

A future-forward tailings dam risk management system

Following recent tailings storage facility catastrophic disasters, the risks posed by mining operations have become a key concern and criteria for investors. Tailings risk management has therefore been a priority digital transformation assignment for Fraser Alexander over the past two years.

In 2015, Fraser Alexander first developed its Technical and Operational Risk Assessment System, TORAS – featuring a comprehensive tailings risk management methodology.

Today, TORAS serves as an internal monitoring tool and integration platform allowing Fraser Alexander to monitor and manage operational risk effectively with features such as data validation protocols, automated triggers and notifications, and auditability.

The system also enables the management and dissemination of data, and provides relevant documentation to stakeholders on their tailings dams via a ‘data access portal’ for increased transparency.

The continual evolution of TORAS

Due to changes in standards and requirements to provide a mature governance, risk and compliance system focusing on improved risk management on mine operations, coupled with the advancement in technology, TORAS has undergone a rapid redevelopment process that has involved a co-creation approach to meet new requirements for the system.

The co-creation strategy considered several key benefits including:

  • The speed of delivery to meet the new requirements and standards;
  • The ability to leverage off existing integrated risk management platforms and technology experts;
  • The differentiation created by the depth and skills of Fraser Alexander’s tailings risk management experience with the strength and expertise from a sound technology association; and
  • The potential cost benefit that all stakeholders could acquire.

While the initial aim of TORAS was to improve data validation, workflow/process management, enable reporting, document management and provide a ‘data access portal’, TORAS has developed into a tool that is able to automate data collection when integrated with the Internet-of-Things (IoT), drone technology and third-party enterprise systems.

The focus on third-party enterprise system integration capability is fundamental to ensuring that existing mine systems, datasets and workflows can be combined to provide a single and comprehensive view of operational risk.

However, Mistry says that TORAS is more than just a technology as Fraser Alexander’s approach to tailings risk management extends beyond the technology requirements.

This includes change management with system support and overall stakeholder adoption management, as well as supporting stakeholders with better characterisation and a strong knowledge base for their facilities.

Alignment with global best practices

TORAS has been developed and implemented in line with international standards and industry best practice. Risk levels are determined according to legislative standards, guidelines and best practice. This includes SANS 10286 1998, The ICMM Guidelines, and the Towards Sustainable Mining Guiding Principles drafted by the Mining Association of Canada.

The development and implementation of the new-generation TORAS is no different, with strong focus on supporting stakeholders in maintaining compliance with the new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, notes James Dutchman, Senior Project Engineer at Fraser Alexander.

TORAS will support stakeholders in three main areas of the standard:

  • Topic Area 2 (Integrated Knowledge Base)
  • Topic Area 3 (Design, Construction, Operation and Monitoring of the Tailings Facility)
  • Topic Area 4 (Management and Governance)

“TORAS is revolutionary, with a strong focus on operational best practice requirements. It provides for accountability of all parties at all levels and full transparency to the highest level of management, both at Fraser Alexander and our mining clients,” Lourens De Koning, COO at Fraser Alexander.

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Cousins Fraser and Fred Alexander formed Fraser Alexander in 1912, as a tailings deposition service to the Witwatersrand’s emerging gold mining industry. Their innovative nature was obvious, as they were the first to use cocopans to remove tailings from processing plants. Soon Fraser Alexander were managing 70% of the dumps in the region. Over the following century, they raised the practice of residue and tailings management to a science, delivering best-practice solutions to locations across Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. In this time, they also expanded their service offering and in 2006, they were acquired by Royal Bafokeng Holdings, the investment arm of the Royal Bafokeng Nation. Fraser Alexander is a fully Black-owned and proudly South African group.