The safety and security of operations, and specifically personnel, is one of the critical issues facing extractive companies in many of the jurisdictions in which they operate. The sensitive political and social environments in which many projects are located increases risk, with associated risk assessment requirements, liability and reputational components to manage. Further, the extra territorial reach of the courts, including those of the US and the UK, means that this is not simply an in country issue for multinational corporations.
Trigger points for security risk will not always be directly related to the activities in question, for example, instances of terrorist attack, hostage taking or kidnapping. In other cases, security threats may be rooted in protest against the activity itself, for example uranium or coal mining, or inherent to the actual (or perceived) environmental, safety and social performance of the project with alleged or discernible impacts on workers and local communities or even classes of individuals in host countries. As well as a potential threat to life, all of these incidents pose a risk of significant operational disruption at affected sites.
Separately, but no less important from an accountability, risk management and ultimately liability perspective, there are potential risk management issues inherent to security activities themselves – both to, and from, security personnel. The activities of Government or privately contracted security forces acting to proactively protect, or in response to protest against, operations also entails legal consideration. International law, criminal law, safety law and human rights abuses or breaches may arise, or be alleged, particularly in the event of unrest entailing attacks on the person, unlawful detention, or even torture or summary execution. The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights establish best practices in terms of the deployment of public and private security forces and engagement with workers and local communities, but are silent on associated legal duties and sanctions given their generic and international guidance. But relevant law exists.
Health and safety responsibilities (and liability) nonetheless run in parallel with security measures, and in optimum circumstances, security and safety arrangements will be, at least in part, interlinked. In the event of endangerment to the health or safety of individuals – or worse loss of lives – safety planning and enforcement will be scrutinised by the courts and by affected families. Questions may arise as to whether individuals should continue to work in high risk areas, or whether the risks were in fact so high they should never have been there in the first place. Duties of care to workers, contractors and communities may also exist and if breached may found actions for damages. Additionally lives and business can be impacted and reputations damaged in the event of security failures resulting in catastrophe. Conversely an effective system of risk assessment and safety and security management, accommodating the practical and legal risks, can mitigate against the risk of disaster scenarios and the associated fall-out.