No charges to be laid in Mount Polley dam breach – by Les Leyne (Victoria Times Colonist – December 22, 2015)

Part of the report by the chief inspector of mines on the Mount Polley tailings-dam failure was devoted to “root cause analysis,” an investigative process developed to look at all the factors that go into engineering failures.

The report cites the Challenger space-shuttle catastrophe and the Three Mile Island nuclear-plant crisis as examples of multiple points of weaknesses in systems, and failures all down the line to understand them.

“Another common trait in structural or system failures over time is the cascading nature of the failure itself,” said the report. “Rarely is there a single physical failure in isolation. One event or condition will trigger or enable another.”

The root-cause analysis always leads to organizational factors, meaning human errors. So although a hidden unstable layer under the dam started the August 2014 Mount Polley cascade, there was a litany of contributing failures in designing and operating the tailing pond. The report lays them all out in some detail. Which makes the final conclusion jarring — that no charges will be laid.

It’s similar to the findings in the two separate fatal Prince George-area mill explosions three years ago. They prompted intensive investigations that determined several allegations on the part of WorkSafe B.C. that regulations were contravened. But no charges were laid.

The difference between the mill explosions and the dam failure is that charges were recommended against the mills, but rejected by the Criminal Justice Branch because of numerous deficiencies in the investigations. The dam investigation didn’t even get to the point of submitting a report to Crown counsel.

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