Sound ground support methods improve underground mining safety

Thursday, 12 March, 2020

Research-based engineering design methods have been developed to help make the Western Australian underground mining sector safer, more cost-effective and more productive. As part of a major collaboration between the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia (MRIWA), the Australian Centre for Geomechanics (ACG) and a number of industry sponsors, the project set out to engineer an optimised approach to the design of ground support solutions for the state’s underground mining.

“Modern mine development remains a complex and expensive engineering challenge,” said project leader Professor Yves Potvin of ACG. “Rock bolts and other engineering support required to stabilise the tunnels allowing miners to safely access an ore body make up a large part of the cost of most underground mines. At the same time, however, the principles currently used to design these critical systems are largely based on civil engineering methods unsuited to the dynamic and ever-evolving mining environment.”

To redress this, Professor Potvin and the research team investigated how modern concepts in ground support engineering and innovative technology could be integrated into a new practical design method that is suited to the operational needs of the mining industry. This involved tackling the issue from the ‘ground up’ and incorporating the latest computational practices that informed the development of a new approach that is tailored to the underground mining environment.

This new methodology provides the mining industry with a ground support design toolkit intended to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness in the underground mining sector, while also improving on safety. “The achievements of Professor Potvin and his team at the ACG in this project are an excellent example of Western Australia’s leadership in practical applied research in mining innovation,” MRIWA CEO Nicole Roocke said. “The real-world applications of this study will help make the underground mining industry both safer and more productive.

“By supporting this sort of applied research, the State Government of Western Australia is helping to address the everyday challenges of the mining sector and make our industry stronger and more competitive,” Roocke added. The ACG is a joint venture between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the University of Western Australia. Industry sponsors on the project were: Codelco, DSI Underground, Epiroc, Glencore Mount Isa Mines Ltd, Geobrugg AG Switzerland, Golder Associates Pty Ltd, Independence Group NL, Jennmar Australia Pty Ltd and MMG Ltd.

The technical report, titled ‘Ground support systems optimisation’, was authored by Professor Potvin with Johan Wesseloo, Phil Dight and Gordon Sweby of ACG together with John Hadjigeorgiou of the University of Toronto. It can be found at

Image credit: © Evans

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