Assessing the Social Risk of Coal Mining Projects

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 46 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Sandy WORDEN, The University of Queensland, Australia
‘Risk’ and ‘uncertainty’ are concepts that are embedded in global mining industry discourse. For many decades mining companies have routinely conducted risk assessments to identify and address project and operational risks. Through this experience a suite of evaluation processes and tools have developed across a range of disciplinary domains, including mine planning, production, workplace health and safety, environment and mainstream business. Social aspects have only recently been incorporated into project risk assessments in the mining industry. Social risk analysis is still in its infancy. Empirical analysis in this area is limited, particularly in the project environment (that is, the period before the project approval process when project proponents begin to conceptualise new mines or major expansions). This paper addresses that gap by considering how project teams grapple with social risk analysis in the techno-scientific risk framework. This framework lacks processes and tools specifically developed for analysing social factors. In addition, there are divergent views on what social risk actually means. How does all this affect the risk assessment process? In answering this question I draw on a series of in-depth interviews with 30 mining professionals from diverse organisational and disciplinary backgrounds working in the coal mining project environment. I argue that the risks that coal mining projects pose to individuals and social entities cannot be adequately understood nor addressed without greater consensus and clarity about the meaning of social risk, without appropriate tools, and without skilled and experienced social risk analysts. Furthermore, if project proponents do not expand their techno-scientific approach, a dissonance will remain between the project risk assessment outcomes and stakeholder perceptions of risk and their reactions to projects.