This case is about the collapse of the Fundão dam supporting the reservoir of the iron ore mine in the village of Bento Rodrigues in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. The catastrophe triggered an avalanche of mud and mine waste that left 19 people dead and hundreds more homeless and polluted hundreds of kilometers of rivers in southeast Brazil’s Rio Doce basin. The mine and dams were operated by Samarco Mineração SA (Samarco), a joint venture between BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP Billiton), the world’s largest mining company by market value, and Vale SA. (Vale), the Brazilian iron ore giant. Anglo-Australian mining group BHP Billiton was held responsible along with its partners for the tragedy. While the reason for the disaster was not yet disclosed, it was alleged that the dam collapse was a result of liquefaction, which meant too much water in the tailings, which in turn weakened the structure of the dam wall. The case describes in detail the consequences of the disaster, considered to be the worst ever environmental catastrophe in Brazilian history. According to experts, the calamity would adversely impact the environment as well as marine life in the Rio Doce estuary. The case highlights the ethical issues involved in the disaster and examines BHP Billiton’s response to it...
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The case is structured to achieve the following teaching objectives:
Study the factors that led to the Bento Rodrigues Dam Disaster.
Understand the issues and challenges for a company like BHP Billiton in managing the risks at their operations.
Understand the importance of the safety culture and process safety management.
Understand the effects of the dam failure on the company and the responsibilities of BHP Billiton in the event of dam failure.
Examine the approach adopted by BHP Billiton in managing the disaster.