Authors: Hebblewhite, BK

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Hebblewhite, BK 2019, 'Geotechnical risk in mining methods and practice: critical issues and pitfalls of risk management', in J Wesseloo (ed.), MGR 2019: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Mining Geomechanical Risk, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 299-308,

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This paper reviews the progressive growth of awareness, adoption and practices with respect to geotechnical risk in mining in Australia over the last four decades, with a particular focus on underground mining. Initial experience in the 1980s was drawn from other high-risk industries such as nuclear and petrochemical sectors, and whilst the mining industry recognised the issue of a changing hazard and risk environment, it did not change practices significantly. Subsequent growth in understanding of the evolving discipline of risk management, coupled with major changes in mining legislation to a more enabling legislative framework, have led to a far more risk-aware industry where risk assessment and risk management practices have become a fundamental component of the overall mining management systems. In underground mining, geotechnical risk is at, or close to, the top of the risk priority list for proactive mine management today. The recognition of what are referred to as ‘core risks’ associated with particular mining methods was a further development in the maturity of the industry management systems, with implications for all levels of management, right from feasibility through to design, planning and operations. One of the problems with the growth of risk-based management practices in Australia is that because we do so many risk assessments and develop so many hazard plans, we have, in some cases, become too blasé about them and do not give due recognition and priority to the ongoing management of important risks – with the potential for serious consequences through lack of attention to detail and lack of integration of risk management into the mine management system. In an effort to overcome this issue and place higher priority on the most critical risks facing a mining operation, the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) Critical Control Management (CCM) system, for focusing on the most critical risks, and then directing more attention to the actual control practices required to manage them, has been a valuable trend in recent years. In the Australian coal sector over the last 10 years, the industry-funded RISKGATE system has also been an extremely useful documentation of industry experience and a tool to assist operators either investigate incidents or plan risk assessments on new topics or areas. Geotechnical topics make up at least three of the 18 major topic areas covered by RISKGATE. This paper will briefly outline how RISKGATE operates and is applicable to the industry in the geotechnical space.

Keywords: geotechnical risk, legislative frameworks, mining methods, hazards, risk assessment, risk management

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