Engineering researchers at the University of Adelaide have undertaken a research to predict the collapse of mines and other infrastructure.
The research programme is being carried out by the university’s school of civil, environmental and mining engineering Australian Research Council (ARC) future fellow Dr Giang Nguyen and his team.
Nguyen said: "There are many cases around the world where we’ve seen catastrophic failure and collapse at underground mine sites, dams and other embankments with huge losses in terms of people’s lives and property.
"It’s very hard to predict the effect of a natural disaster or failure in infrastructure."
Under the four-year project, researchers plan to develop practical formulas that would provide engineers with in-depth information about the soil, rocks and concrete, as well as factors that trigger mine collapses.
"All we can do as engineers or researchers to ensure the optimal stability is to do laboratory tests on small specimens taken from the site and use this analysis to project what might happen on a larger scale," Nguyen added.
"But there are obviously different behaviours between small specimens of 10cm³ then for large structures of 100m³ or more.
"We need to come up with a method for better prediction that can properly link failures at the micro-scale, specimen-scale and large [field] scale."
According to a report titled ‘Fatal accidents in the Western Australian mining industry 2000 – 2012’ by the Government of Western Australia, 52 fatal mining accidents were reported in the state over the 13-year period from 2000 to 2012, including 17 underground and 35 on surface.
The report states that: "Over the period of the review, there were about ten times as many people employed in surface mines as underground mines, giving a fatal incidence rate about five times greater for underground work as compared to surface work."