Alternatives to Blasting
The South African mining industry, once the backbone of economic growth, intensive job creation and development in the country, is in constant decline, owing to the slow rates of research and development into newer, safer, modernised, mechanised and continuous mining methods.
A key pillar of improved mining efficiency and safety for personnel – as mining takes place at greater depths to access orebodies – is using alternative rock-breaking methods to replace the legacy explosives-based methods.
Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA), formerly known as the Chamber of Mines, states that the local mining sector has been considered a labour-intensive industry for more than a century, with mining characterised by physically demanding drilling methods, and operations punctuated by blasting and cleaning on a stop-start basis. This means that, for a period, mines are in limbo between charging holes and clearing stopes.
Drilling and blasting methods have historically been used in narrow-reef, hard-rock mining for gold, platinum and chrome in South Africa. Initially, when mining depths were not great – by current standards – explosives were used, and are still used, as the primary method to break hard rock.
However, regular blasting may lead to serious impacts, such as inducing seismic events and falls of ground, which are a major cause of mining fatalities.