Ground Control In South African Coal Mines - A U.S. Perspective

Mark, Christopher
Organization: International Conference on Ground Control in Mining
Pages: 8
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1999
After the United States and Australia, South Africa has the largest. modern underground coal mining industry in the world. Historically, South Africa has been the cradle of many innovations in ground control, particularly in the area of pillar design. Today, South African mines are grappling with many of the same issues faced by their U.S. counterparts, including safety during pillar retreat operations, selecting the proper roof support, and maintaining long-term pillar stability. The author recently visited seven underground mines in the Mpumalanga, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. Mining methods included longwall, room-and-pillar with continuous miners, and drill-and-blast. The mines represented a cross-section of geology and ground support practices. At each mine evaluations were made of the Coal Mine Roof Rating (CMRR), roof support practices, pillar design methods, and general ground control experience. The coal seams observed were generally thick (2-5 m), the depths of cover moderate (less than 200 m), and the roof rocks relatively strong (CMRR greater than 45). Unfortunately, the South African roof fall fatality rate is approximately three times greater than in U.S., perhaps in part because roof bolts seem to be more widely spaced in most South African mines. Roof bolting equipment was generally outdated, and the quality of bolt installation was a major concern. Pillar design, on the other hand, is quite advanced, and pillar failures are rare. Several novel partial pillaring techniques are employed, including "checkerboard" mining in which every other pillar is removed, 3-cut systems, and high-extraction mining where engineered final stumps are left by design. The paper also offers observations on ground control management techniques (including recently introduced Codes of Practice), the role of the mine inspectorate, and the status of the research community.
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