Incidents

Our environmental incident rate improved in 2011

Environmental incidents are classified using a qualitative risk assessment process based on the maximum reasonable consequence and the likelihood of an incident occurring.

The risk assessment uses four classifications: low, moderate, high or critical. A definition of each classification is given below.

Risk rating Definition
Low Procedural non-compliance or incident with promptly reversible environmental impact
Moderate Incidents with low environmental impact or procedural non-compliance
High Incidents of non-compliance or incidents with moderate environmental impact
Critical Incidents with unconfined and significant environmental impact

2011 performance

Our overall environmental incidents rate improved slightly in 2011. We reported 213 incidents compared with 220 in 2010.

There were no critical environmental incidents during 2011. There were 24 high ranked incidents, compared with 29 in 2010.

Three Penalty Infringement Notices to the value of $1500 each were received during 2011.These were at Hunter Valley Operations in New South Wales for an unauthorised discharge of mine water to the Hunter River, a blast exceeded overpressure limit set in the Environmental Protection Licence and an unauthorised discharge of mine water to Pikes Creek. Corrective and preventative actions were implemented in response to each of these incidents.  

In 2010 we developed a new measure of environmental performance using recordable incidents, with its use continuing in 2011. Recordable incidents include low, medium, high and critical environmental incidents. The environmental incident frequency rate (EIFR) has been defined as the number of environmental incidents per 200,000 hours worked.

Our 2011 EIFR was 3.00 compared with 3.60 in 2010.



Incidents at our New South Wales operations are reported to community and regulators in accordance with regulatory conditions. Similarly, incidents with a high or critical risk rating that occur at our sites in Queensland are reported both as they occur and annually to regulators.

Summary of 2011 high ranked incidents

 

Incident type Site Desciption of incident Response
Air Hunter Valley Operations Two instances of dust exceedence Notifications made in accordance with regulatory requirements; investigations completed; monitoring regimes refined.
Noise Mount Thorley Warkworth; Hunter Valley Operations Six instances of noise limit exceedence Notifications made in accordance with regulatory requirements; investigations completed; operational modifications made.
Blast Mount Thorley Warkworth; Hunter Valley Operations One instance of blasting occurring outside of approved hours, one instance of blast fumes and one overpressure exceedence. Regulator notified; investigations completed; changes made to operating procedures; re-training and communication of procedures to operators.
Water Hail Creek Mine Water released exceeded compliance limits Regulator notified; release ceased and investigation undertaken.  Change management processes have been implemented to keep step with the increasing complexity of discharge requirements.
Hunter Valley Operations Licensed discharge occurred outside of authorised time To be reported in Annual Return; investigations completed; revision of procedures and training used for operation of licenced discharge points.
  Five unauthorised discharges of mine water Engineering and procedural changes completed and ongoing to prevent reoccurrence.
Mount Thorley Warkworth Four instances of exceeding licensed discharge criteria Recorded and to be notified in Annual Returns; investigations completed;  Alarm mechanism initiated to warn of deteriorating total suspended solids.
Land Kestrel Mine An instance of unauthorised clearning of an area Full investigation undertaken and mine ground disturbance procedures reviewed to mitigate the risk of unauthorised disturbance reoccurring; and updated procedures communicated.
Blair Athol Mine An instance of unauthorised clearning of an area Full investigation undertaken and mine ground disturbance procedures reviewed to mitigate the risk of unauthorised disturbance reoccurring; and updated procedures communicated.

Two major environmental non-conformances were identified at Clermont Region in 2011 during an audit against Rio Tinto's HSEQ performance standards:

  • Drill hole assay data was identified as insufficient to adequately identify potentially acid forming materials in accordance with the Rio Tinto Mineral Waste Management and Acid Rock Drainage Prediction and Control standards. A drilling schedule and assessment programme for 2012 has been instigated to rectify this shortfall.
  • Rio Tinto's Hazardous Materials and Contamination Control standard requires risk assessed controls to be in place where underground pipelines are retained.  Controls at Clermont Region were assessed as being insufficient. A review of the effectiveness of underground pipelines has been undertaken, resulting in a process to ensure that testing results are retained on file.