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Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy

On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
Print version ISSN 0038-223X


VAN DER MERWE, J.N.  and  MATHEY, M.. Update of coal pillar database for South African coal mining. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2013, vol.113, n.11, pp.825-840. ISSN 2411-9717.

Following the Coalbrook disaster in 1960, research into coal pillar strength resulted in the adoption of the concept of a safety factor for the design of stable pillars in South African coal mining. At the time when the original statistical analysis was performed by Salamon and Munro in the early 1960s, 27 cases of failed pillar workings were considered suitable for inclusion in the database of failed pillars. Pillar failure did not stop after the introduction of the safety factor formula by Salamon and Munro (1967). In the ensuing years, pillars that were created before the application of the formula deteriorated and later failed, as did ones that were created after the introduction of the formula. This means that over time, the database of failed pillar cases increased in size, allowing ever more reliable analyses to be performed. The number of failed cases in the database had grown from the original 27 in the 1960s to 86 by 2011. All the failed cases are contained in the updated database. The database of stable pillars, which is also used in the derivation of strength formulae, has now been extended from 125 to 337 cases. The new database of intact pillar cases is more complete as it bridges the time gap between the Salamon and Munro (1967) and the Van der Merwe (2006) databases. The original requirements for inclusion into the database were satisfied in the compilation of this latest collection. The characteristics of the original database of intact pillars did not change in a meaningful way. The mining depth and pillar dimensions of the new database are largely as they were in the original database. Time-related trends with regard to pillar dimensions and depth of mining could not be found, indicating that the geometrical parameters of coal mining in South Africa have not changed meaningfully in approximately a century of mining. The characteristics of cases in the updated database of failed pillars does not differ substantially from the one published by Van der Merwe (2006). The same difference between that database and the original Salamon and Munro database, namely that the average safety factor of the failed cases had increased dramatically, from 1.0 to 1.5, is still apparent. This may be due to the inclusion of more failures from specific areas that exhibit a disproportionate number of failures at higher safety factors. These areas are the Vaal Basin, Klip River, and Free State coalfields. The new database confirms yet again that there is no correlation between the safety factors of failed pillars and their time of failure. The safety factor on its own is thus not a reliable predictor of longterm stability of pillars.

Keywords : coal pillar; stable pillar cases; pillar collapse; pillar database.

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