Golden Rocks 2006, The 41st U.S. Symposium on Rock Mechanics (USRMS),
2006. American Rock Mechanics Association
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ABSTRACT: Over the last 50 years there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of fatalities attributed to ground falls in underground mines in the United States. There are a number of technological, political, and societal factors that together are responsible for these reductions, not the least of which are the contribution of advancements in the science and application of rock mechanics and resulting support technologies. From 1910-1995, the U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) performed a wide-ranging program of research which included a large number of rock mechanics research projects. After the USBM was abolished in 1995, select research functions with the specific goal of improving mine safety and health were transferred to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This paper highlights some of the improvements in mine safety resulting from developments in the field of rock mechanics and rock engineering from the USBM, NIOSH, and others during the last 50 years. The effective application of new technologies generally evolves over relatively long periods of time. This paper offers some examples of where the application of improved rock engineering and support methods have resulted in discernible improvements in mine safety in underground coal, industrial mineral, and metal mines over the last five decades. Prospective directions for NIOSH?s ground control research program are also included.
Rock falls have historically been a leading cause of fatalities in underground mines. Even a relatively small piece of rock can be deadly if it falls from a high roof. From 1955 to 2005, there were 3,825 fatalities attributed to falls of roof and ground in underground mines in the U.S.; however, only 38 of these occurred in the recent five-year period from 2000-2004. Obviously, great strides have been made in ground control in the last 50 years, but singling out the most significant factors that have contributed to this dramatic reduction is difficult. One might speculate that increased regulation and enforcement might be a significant factor, but, as shown in Figure 1, the Coal Mine Act of 1969  was enacted in the middle of the sharpest decline in the fatality incident rate, which occurred from 1961 to 1977. Mining legislation that stipulated stronger ground control requirements for both coal and non-coal mines was not enacted until 1977 .
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