Mining Publication: Evaluating Techniques for Monitoring Rock Falls and Slope Stability
While less than 1% of reported accidents are associated with slope stability problems, slope failures were responsible for about 15% of all U.S. surface mine fatalities between 1995 and 2001. Small rockfalls, which may involve hand-sized rocks weighing only a few kilograms, can cause fatal injuries to workers away from the protection of large machinery. Massive highwall failures containing a million cubic meters of material or more can be fatal even for heavy equipment operators. As part of an ongoing study at the Spokane Research Laboratory of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, several remote-sensing technologies are being evaluated as tools to monitor slopes for hazards and to assess slope stability. Field tests of a hyperspectral imager were conducted to assess its value for improving geologic maps of potentially unstable alteration zones on mine slopes. An interferometric radar device capable of detecting very small displacements on slopes awaits final assembly and field testing. Computerized monitoring methods using images from digital and video cameras are being assessed for application to mine slope surveillance. These and other techniques will eventually provide new tools to augment current methods for monitoring ground control hazards in mines.