Ground control research in underground coal mines has been ongoing for over 50 years. One of the most problematic issues in underground coal mines is roof failures associated with weak shale. This paper will present a historical narrative on the research the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has conducted in relation to rock mechanics and shale. This paper begins by first discussing how shale is classified in relation to coal mining. Characterizing and planning for weak roof sequences is an important step in developing an engineering solution to prevent roof failures. Next, the failure mechanics associated with the weak characteristics of shale will be discussed. Understanding these failure mechanics also aids in applying the correct engineering solutions. The various solutions that have been implemented in the underground coal mining industry to control the different modes of failure will be summarized. Finally, a discussion on current and future research relating to rock mechanics and shale is presented. The overall goal of the paper is to share the collective ground control experience of controlling roof structures dominated by shale rock in underground coal mining.


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH) Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR), formerly the United States Bureau of Mines, has been conducting research on ground control safety for over 50 years. The overall objective of the research is to reduce underground mining injuries and fatalities by characterizing roof conditions, improving roof support performance and application, and optimizing pillar design and mine layout. Underground mining has one of the highest fatal injury rates of any industry in the United States—more than five times the national average compared to other industries (CDC, 2012). Roof fall injuries can be severe, resulting in lacerations, bone fractures, amputations, and death. Non-injury roof falls can also be problematic, resulting in lost production, delays, blockage of primary escape routes, disruption to ventilation, and hazardous rehabilitation conditions.

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