Since the establishment of the South African Safety in Mines Research Advisory Committee (SIMRAC) in 1991, more than R250 million has been spent on rock-related research, representing some 500 man-years of effort. The improvement in injury and fatality rates was initially disappointing, but the coal sector has shown a marked improvement since 1999 and the gold sector since 2003. This study seeks to assess holistically the scope, quality, and impact of the SIMRAC research programme to ensure that the maximum benefit is derived from past work, and that future research work is appropriately directed. The information, conclusions, and recommendations contained in this report are intended to support SIMRAC decision makers for the next decade, at least.
The Status Report enables stakeholders to derive the maximum benefit from SIMRAC’s past investment in rock-related research by structuring and analysing the large body of completed work and work in progress. SIMRAC projects have been reviewed, evaluated, and compared with similar efforts in Australia, Canada, and Europe, as well as several local collaborative research programmes (DeepMine, FutureMine, Coaltech 2020 and PlatMine). The evaluation by an independent panel of international experts ensures that the assessment is unbiased and benchmarked against global best practice. It has been concluded that SIMRAC has succeeded in identifying the major research needs and has conducted a comprehensive programme of research. SIMRAC has contributed to the emergence of new technologies, such as systems for seismic monitoring and analysis, dip-pillar mining layouts, preconditioning, and prestressed elongates. SIMRAC research has also contributed to the work of the collaborative research programmes and the formulation of the codes of practice to combat rockfall and rockburst accidents. The relatively small impact on safety statistics is attributed to: the increasing depth of mining; the increasing proportion of remnant and pillar mining; the long lead-time for new knowledge to be implemented; and shortcomings in the knowledge and technology transfer process. It must be noted that implementation is not driven by researchers, but by industry and regulators. It has been found that the scope and quality of the research work is comparable to efforts in Australia, Canada, and Europe.
The Foresight Report is intended to enable SIMRAC to deploy funds and resources optimally in future, ensuring that any important knowledge and technology gaps are filled, and that research efforts are strategically focused. It is recommended that SIMRAC’s mandate be reviewed to recognise the critical importance of rejuvenating competence. Greater emphasis must be placed on knowledge and technology transfer and implementation, though new funds will have to be sought for implementation activities, as the research budget has declined to a dangerously low level. It is desirable that universities play a larger role in the research endeavour so that the pool of highly qualified rock engineering practitioners is enlarged. Focus areas for research remain the measures to mitigate and manage the rockburst and rockfall risk. Emerging rock-related hazards associated with coal pillar and multi-seam mining, small-scale mining, and deep platinum mining should be proactively addressed. The research portfolio should cover the entire innovation cycle, ranging from basic science, engineering, risk assessment, and human issues, to technology transfer and the assessment of the impact of implemented technologies.
The Status Report and Foresight Report are supplemented by a Powerpoint slide show that makes the findings explicit to high-level decision makers who are not rock engineering specialists.