An overview is given of a series of classification systems used for rock slope stability analyses. Calculation methods and parameters used seem not always appropriate for slopes stability and could be improved. Based on this evaluation some new ideas developed of how a system for slope stability assessment could be designed without inherited legacies as parameters related to underground excavations. In the past classification system calculations should be simple as these were supposed to be done on site in the field. With the general availability of palmtop computers this restriction is not necessary anymore and more sophisticated systems with more complicated calculations can be designed which may result in better slope stability ·predictions.
In the last decades the study of discontinuous rock mechanics has developed tremendously. For constructions, such as slopes, foundations and shallow tunnels it has been recognized that discontinuities have a major influence on the mechanical properties of a rock mass. This perception has major consequences for the assessment of the engineering behaviour of a rock mass. Descriptions and characterizations, engineering geological maps and calculations for engineering structures in or on a rock mass have to include discontinuity properties. Variations in properties, however, can be considerable along the same discontinuity plane. As there may be hundreds of discontinuities in a rock mass, each with its own variable properties, these, taken together with inhomogeneities in the rock material, require that in order to describe or calculate the mechanical behaviour of the rock mass accurately, a large amount of data is required. Laboratory and field tests are available to obtain discontinuity properties. Continuum calculations for engineering structures in or on a rock mass, whether analytical or numerical, cannot be appropriate, as the simplifications needed to present the rock mass as a continuum are so substantial that it is nearly always highly questionable to what extent the final calculation model still represents reality. Discontinuous "distinct block" numerical calculations can model the discontinuities and calculate the behaviour of a rock mass in all detail, provided that property data are available. Apart from the need to have powerful computers to do the large number of calculations required by the vast quantity of discontinuities, the test data needed for a detailed numerical discontinuous calculation are never available. An often applied practice to avoid these problems is to simplify the discontinuity model, and estimate or guess the properties or to use literature values. To what extent the result is still representative for the real situation is a question that often remains unanswered.
Rock masses have been described from the earliest geological maps onwards. The descriptions of the rocks were initially in lithological and in other geological terms. With increasing knowledge of geology, geological features and the influence of geology on engineering the amount of information to be included in a description for geotechnical purposes increased, leading to sets of rules for the description or characterization of a rock mass geotechnically.