Pillar Design in the Hard Rock Mines of South Africa

Document Type : Research Paper


Department of Mining Engineering, University of Pretoria


This paper gives an overview of the difficulties associated with the design of hard rock pillars in South African mines. Recent examples of large scale pillar collapses in South Africa suggest that these were caused by weak partings which traversed the pillars. Currently two different methods are used to determine the strength of pillars, namely, empirical equations derived from back analyses of failed and stable cases and numerical modeling tools using appropriate failure criteria. It is illustrated in the paper that both techniques have their limitations and additional work is required to obtain a better understanding of pillar strength.
Empirical methods based on observations of pillar behaviour in a given geotechnical setting are popular and easy to use, but care should be exercised that the results are not inappropriately extrapolated beyond the environment in which they are established. An example is the Hedley and Grant formula (derived for the Canadian uranium mines) that has been used for many years in the South African platinum and chrome mines (albeit with some adaptation of the K-value). Very few collapses have been reported in South Africa for layouts designed using this formula, suggesting that in some cases it might yield estimates of pillar strength that are too conservative.
As an alternative, some engineers strongly advocate the use of numerical techniques to determine pillar strength. A close examination unfortunately reveals that these techniques also rely on many assumptions. An area where numerical modeling is invaluable, however, is to determine pillar stresses accurately and to study specific pillar failure mechanisms, such as the influence of weak partings on pillar strength.