Unsupported browser

For a better experience, please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Brazil dam: Fired inspectors had refused safety certificate

Reuters has reported that the Brazilian iron ore miner Vale fired an inspection firm because it refused to certify one of its dams as safe.

In documents filed this week by prosecutors, it has been reported that Vale Mining fired inspection firm Tractebel, a subsidiary of France’s Engie, because it refused to certify one of its dams as safe.

State officials in Brazil have suggested that liquefaction was the rigger of the fatal tailings dam collapse on 25 January at Vale Mining’s Córrego do Feijão iron ore site in Brumadinho.

Reuters has reported that Vale said it would no longer ask the auditor to perform regular inspections of the dam. It cited “divergences in the criteria utilised to evaluate geotechnological safety,” prosecutors said, citing unnamed witnesses’ testimony.

Instead, Vale relied on Germany’s TÜV SÜD, which signed off on the dam that burst, despite evidence from its own readings that the structure was “way below” the recommended safety level, the prosecutors said.

Neither Vale nor Tractebel had any immediate comment and TÜV SÜD officials could not be reached for comment, Reuters said. 

Vale’s senior executives have apologised for the disaster but have not accepted responsibility, saying the installations met the highest industry standards.

Prosecutors now allege that it was a “recurrent practice” at Vale to pressure inspectors to sign off on reviews even if they “violated the required technical specifications.”

The replacement of a firm reluctant to sign off on the dam’s safety by one willing to do so was one of several such moves by the company’s geotechnical unit, according to the prosecutors. Vale created the unit to improve safety after another deadly dam collapse in 2015.

The prosecutors alleged the unit “acted in a systematic form to certify as stable dams which didn’t meet the legal parameters stipulated by the company itself, so much so that on more than one occasion the geotechnical area replaced external auditors who refused to make spurious declarations.”

They added this was part of a “policy at Vale SA to obtain positive safety reviews in an improper way.” Even senior executives were regularly provided with information about the safety of the dams and other “structures,” the prosecutors alleged.

The allegations were contained in a document given to Vale on Friday recommending the immediate “temporary removal” of then CEO Fabio Schvartsman as well as Ferrous Metals Chief Peter Poppinga and other executives.

The prosecutors’ allegations were previously reported by Folha de S. Paulo newspaper and the Wall Street Journal, Reueters added. 

Vale’s board agreed to the temporary removal on Saturday of Schvartsman, Poppinga and other executives.

The company said on Saturday that its board was aiming for a “transparent and productive relationship” with Brazilian authorities aimed at clarifying the facts of the case and “appropriate reparations for damages.”

Last month authorities confirmed that 12 further arrests have been made as part of its criminal investigation into the collapse of Vale Mining’s Feijao dam in Brumadinho.

It is understood that eight are Vale employees but four are from Germany-based engineering consultancy Tüv Süd, which carried out an inspection of the dam last year.

Neither Vale or Tüv Süd have commented on the arrest, which follow on from the arrest of two other engineers soon after the collapse.

Court orders have also been issued to suspend some of Vale’s other operations and freeze the company’s assets.

Investigations into the cause of the collapse are still underway but it is currently believed to have been triggered by liquefaction.

Want to read more? Subscribe to GE’s enewsletters and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.