Continual Improvement

Plan-implement-review-act is a cycle applied at mines and other sectors to simplify the continual improvement cycle. Those environmental scientists involved with rehabilitation and closure aspects will be familiar with the continual improvement cycle outlined in ISO14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems. EMS follows a cycle which includes; the environmental policy, planning, implementation, verification/corrective action, management review, in a loop to create improvement. Plan-do-study (check)-act is known as the Deming Cycle and from this webpage the following summary is provided:

    The cycle begins with the Plan step. This involves identifying a goal or purpose, formulating a theory, defining success metrics and putting a plan into action. These activities are followed by the Do step, in which the components of the plan are implemented, such as making a product. Next comes the Study step, where outcomes are monitored to test the validity of the plan for signs of progress and success, or problems and areas for improvement. The Act step closes the cycle, integrating the learning generated by the entire process, which can be used to adjust the goal, change methods or even reformulate a theory altogether. These four steps are repeated over and over as part of a never-ending cycle of continual improvement.

File-PDCA_Process.png

It is emphasised in the literature that 'study or investigation' is required as 'check' implies only an inspection This is particularly relevant to mine rehabilitation and closure planning where more detailed study and investigation are needed to assess planning methods applied. For revegetation works there are likely to be many who are familiar with monitoring to evaluate performance and progress toward completion criteria. For example;

  • Review completion criteria and other reference materials which provide context around vegetation to be re-established
  • define the area to be rehabilitated and source of soils to be used (rehab and mining expertise combined)
  • identify the timing of works
  • ensure drainage design complete
  • undertake sampling for analysis of soils materials - upper 'topsoils' and lower spoil for suitability
  • organise personnel and equipment or contractors and materials (seed, fertiliser and soil amelioration resources)
  • undertake the works under supervision
  • record the works visually and all aspects of relevance to evaluating success
  • monitor area after short term and longer term (repeat)
  • review success
  • intervene if key quality measures have not been achieved
  • investigate success and failures in order to learn and improve
  • apply learned improvements required to next area of rehabilitation
  • revisit completion criteria to refine
  • engage with stakeholders to update them on learnings and verify CC remain relevant to needs
  • plan the next area of rehabilitation

There are other aspects of rehabilitation and closure planning which will also benefit from continual improvement and very clear objectives . For example, the development of a life of mine plan to align the closure landform design with the economic life of an asset is part of closure planning. Also included in there may be the 5 year rehabilitation and closure plans and annual plans. These address medium term planning to keep the annual work program connected to the life of asset design and long term closure objectives. This process will capture the works to be undertaken progressively (say annually) on the ground, as well as the studies needed to address knowledge gaps to refine the design for closure, during the operational phase. So review of the closure planning process will need to address the following as examples. Review of the; 

  • closure objectives
  • closure knowledge base to identify gaps,
  • closure risks and risk management framework
  • studies undertaken to address gaps,
  • landform design including final void plans on the basis of new knowledge progressively gained, and
  • planning process itself to ensure the appropriate engagement of internal expertise /responsibilities as well as external stakeholders who need to be involved in the planning process.

This MRC-wiki uses the following terms for identifying those articles which relate to 'planning' 'implementing' and 'reviewing'. The improvement aspects will be embedded in them all.

Continual improvement relies heavily upon the objectives or standards set by regulatory and internal company leadership. This is where leading practice needs to be applied to address the gap which often exists between what is required to operate a mine in compliance compared with closing a mine which meets the multiple needs of more than a single regulatory agency, communities and other stakeholders. The WA Mine closure guidelines (DMP/EPA, 2015) are one example where the regulator has endeavoured to provide more of a whole of government approach to closure. However many jurisdictions whilst providing rehabilitation guidelines as part of their regulatory framework, may not provide sufficient clarity for successful mine closure. In these instances a compliance approach, even with continual improvement, may not yield adequate closure outcomes. Leading practices will need to be applied in order to bridge the gap between regulatory compliance and the closure requirements for each site to achieve a successful end point where agreed post-mining land and water uses can be sustained by other land owners/users who come after the mining activity.

    
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