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This guideline provides advice on the geotechnical aspects of designing for stable sloping post-mining land forms. Such landforms include:

low wall spoil (strip mines),

out-of-pit dumps, waste rock dumps, reject or gangue dumps (strip, open pit and underground mines),

haul ramp batters (strip mines),

retaining embankments, and

final void batters.

This guideline recognises the different resources available to small scale miners and larger operators. Accordingly, some generally acceptable geotechnical slope stability criteria are described in Attachment 1. These criteria are intended to apply (subject to site- specific conditions) to operations which are remote from population centres and involve pits:

having volumes not exceeding 100,000 m 3 , and

depths of not greater than 20 m.

This guideline is ADVISORY ONLY and is not intended to prescribe mandatory standards and practices. This guideline is intended to assist the development of project-specific environmental management practices.


To ensure the effective management of the risk of geotechnical instability in waste dumps, spoil piles and abandoned open pit slopes in the final void.




Tailings Management

Open Pit Rehabilitation

Minesite Decommissioning



For the purposes of this guideline, unless the context indicates otherwise:

“Agreed” refers to a standard, level or criterion which if achieved ensures that no significant adverse environmental impact is likely to occur. Such standards, levels or criteria may be drawn from published sources or proven practice but, in all cases, must be to the satisfaction of the relevant Responsible Authority;

“Angle of repose” is the angle of steepest slope at which material will remain stable when loosely piled;

“Cut slope” refers to a man-made slope created by excavation into insitu material;

“Factor of Safety” (FOS), in relation to a slope or embankment, is the ratio of total force available to resist sliding to the total force tending to induce sliding. When the slope or embankment is on the point of failure, the resisting and disturbing forces are equal and the FOS is 1.0. An FOS greater than 1.0 indicates stability;

“Fill slope” refers to a man-made slope formed at the edge of material dumped or placed to create stockpiles, dumps, retaining embankments or similar structures;

“Rehabilitation” refers to the measures and actions used to remediate land disturbed by mining operations and/or exploration activities;

“Responsible Authority” means any State Government Department, corporation, statutory authority or local government empowered to determine an application for the granting of approval for a development proposal or any component of that proposal (by way of general consent, licence or permit, etc.).



The stability of the final land form left at the end of mining operations is critical to the successful rehabilitation of the site. There are significant advantages in taking this into account when selecting mining and spoil disposal methods to be used during the mining operation. Re- shaping, draining and capping of slopes can incur significant costs. Spreading the cost of such work through the project life is to be preferred to one high cost clean-up event at the end of the project when cash flow is reduced.

Hence working to plans of operation that take into account the final land form, including final void and spoil tips, and provide for progressive rehabilitation of exhausted and completed areas is to be encouraged.

The analyses and investigations of the geotechnical stability of slopes will incur costs which will normally have to be borne at project start-up.

While geotechnical investigations can appear expensive in the short-term, they can save on the longer term costs of poor slope design. Poor design can lead to:

lost production and resources,

reduced personal safety,

increased risk of equipment damage,

Low wall spoil

damage to rehabilitated areas, and

Out of pit dumps, waste rock dumps, reject or

Data Collection

unnecessary rehandling of materials during slope reshaping.


gangue dumps.




Geotechnical Stability

Long term geotechnical stability should be maintained within agreed standards dependent on the geomorphology of the surrounding landform and the proposed post-mining land use. No landform is stable in geological time. The design and safety of the final landform should be suitable for the agreed end land use.

Geotechnical stability is defined as the stability of an excavated slope or spoil pile against mass failure. Factors of Safety against failure are generally defined as the ratio between restoring forces and disturbing forces within the slope. Restoring forces are dependent on the available shear strength in the materials plus any introduced supports (such as anchors or rock bolts), while disturbing forces are a function of applied shear stresses, pore pressures, surcharges and earthquake loadings within the slope. Conventionally used safety factors for temporary and permanent slopes are 1.2 and 1.5 respectively. However, some Responsible Authorities may specify different values and these should be confirmed.

6.2 Assessment Procedures

The following steps are recommended in approaching the assessment of the geotechnical stability of slopes:


Prepare conceptual mine layout and select concept design for open pit and spoil slopes.


Collect geotechnical data.


Define design parameters.


Define Factors of Safety.


Analyse geotechnical slope stability.


Refine slope geometries to conform with agreed Factors of Safety.

During mining operations, slope stability performance should be reviewed and designs amended as necessary. When developing concept designs and amending designs, the possibility of future extensions or deepening of the pit should be taken into account.

6.3 Concept Slope Design

At concept design stage, slope geometries should be based on local experience and with similar materials in similar environments. All slopes should be identified and categorised with respect to consequence of slope failure and type of slope. Types of slope may include:

Abandoned slopes in final void

Haul ramp batters (strip mines)

Retaining embankments

Data collection should be relevant to the type of slopes required and should be directed to the relevant factors affecting geotechnical stability.


Dumps and Stockpiles

Data for dumps and stockpiles is required for assessing:


the bearing capacity of the underlying foundation materials,


the stability of slopes formed in the dumped material, and


the permeability and drainage characteristics of the dump

Data collected should include:


A description of the soil profile below the dump/stockpile site in terms of:

soil type

particle size distribution

plasticity (Atterberg limits)

moisture content


shear strength (total and effective stress angle of friction and cohesion)


thickness and depth to rock.


Hydrogeological conditions below the dump/stockpile site including:

groundwater levels



Geotechnical properties of the dump/stockpile materials including:

particle size distribution


anticipated compacted density

plasticity (Atterberg limits)

dispersion index


shear strength


and any variations of the above if the material is expected to weather or deteriorate.

(d) Any other relevant data such as earthquake loadings and surcharges.


Open Pit Slopes

Data for final slopes and batters remaining within the open pit is required for:


designing long term pit slopes,


assessing long term slope deterioration, and


determining hydrogeological effects on the local groundwater.

Data collected should include:


a description of soil and rock profile through the slope,


soil parameters as listed above for dumps and stockpiles,


rock density and uniaxial compressive strength,


rock structure including orientation, occurrence and spacing of bedding, joints, faults and other discontinuities,


shear strength along discontinuities,


groundwater levels,




depth of weathering,


depth of soil cover and paleotopography (eg. buried channels),


surcharges (during and after mining operations), and


earthquake loadings.

6.5 Design Parameters

Design parameters should be selected to represent the characteristics of the slope forming materials. Measured

values of soil parameters may show a scatter both locally and spatially. For example, insitu bulk density measurements of one particular spoil pile may vary from 15 kN/m 3 to 18 kN/m 3 (local scatter). However, due to different dumping methods a second spoil pile of the

same material might vary from 17 kN/m (spatial scatter between dumps).

Any scatter in raw data may be due to any one of the following:


to 20 kN/m 3

a real natural variation of the parameter,

measurement errors or inaccuracies, or

spatial variation, such as in the bulk density example given above.

All new data must therefore be carefully examined and filtered before being grouped for statistical analysis.

In addition to material parameters it is very important to select the correct groundwater and pore pressure distribution for the slope.

6.6 Stability Analysis - Detailed Design

Typical types of failure that can occur include:


Earth, rock fill and spoil dumps and embankments


non-circular semi-infinite slope

multiple block plane wedge

log spiral (bearing capacity of foundations)

flow slides.


Final void slopes in earth and rock

block slide



circular (normally earth slopes only).

Stability analysis and slope design is an iterative process of successive trials whereby potential sliding surfaces are chosen and the Factor of Safety determined. This is continued for all kinematically possible surfaces until the critical surface is found. The critical surface is the one with the lowest Factor of Safety. If this is below the minimum design Factor of Safety for the project, the slope geometry, drainage, or construction materials need to be varied until the minimum Factor of Safety is achieved or exceeded.

Computer programs are commercially available to perform most stability analyses but personnel experienced in their operation, particularly in the particular project environment, should be employed to facilitate the analyses.

For preliminary and conceptual design purposes use can be made of stability charts published in readily available texts (see references). However, these designs need to be confirmed and refined by detailed analysis at final design stage.

6.7 Performance and Feedback

Progressive rehabilitation of completed or exhausted

areas allows the performance of early areas to be used in

modifying designs for subsequent areas. This can achieve more effective designs that are suitable for the particular project environment and that can reduce rehabilitation costs.

Slope performance monitoring generally includes:

Selecting several typical profiles normal to the slope contours.

Driving or concreting-in survey levelling points along the profile.

Photographing and surveying the profiles once or twice a year - say at the start and finish of the wet season.

Installing standpipes and measuring water levels on a similar basis.

Comparing surveys cumulatively and assessing slope degradation.

Keeping a record book of any slips and slope failures that occur on any slope (not necessarily along profile lines).





Geotechnical investigation, data assessment, analysis and design is a specialised discipline. Depending on the size of the project, geotechnical input may only be required at specific and infrequent times. Consideration should be given to employing geotechnical consultants for this work.

More detailed guidance on geotechnical slope stability applicable to small scale mining operations remote from population centres is given in Attachment 1.

7.2 Data Gathering

Methods of data gathering include:

surface mapping and sampling

test pitting and costeans

borehole sampling of soils, either undisturbed or disturbed

continuous rock coring, core orientation, geomechanical logging

downhole geophysical methods

groundwater sampling

insitu testing in boreholes including

a) permeability tests,

b) pressuremeter tests for elastic moduli determinations,

c) insitu stress measurement,

d) standard penetration test (SPT) for relative density of soils,

e) insitu vane shear test for undrained strength of soft clays, and

f) pumping/dewatering tests,

electric friction core profiling

laboratory tests on rock, soil materials and water according to Australian Standards (AS) or international rock testing standards (ISRMS)

Field trials of the proposed works, eg.

g) trial mine pits,

h) stockpiles,

i) spoil piles, and

j) compaction trials for engineered embankments, roadways, causeways.

Much of the fieldwork for such data gathering can be carried out as a small extension to an exploration programme. Mobilisation costs can be minimised if the two activities are carried out together.

7.3 Geotechnical Analysis and Design


Open Pits

Analytical methods for cut slopes have been well documented in published texts ( Reference 1) and these methods include:

Stereographic projection graphical techniques for the analysis of discontinuity data

Plane failure analysis

Wedge failure techniques

Toppling failure analysis

Circular and non-circular analysis by the method of slices

Finite element and finite difference computer techniques.

A typical design implementation would be:

Divide the pit into areas of similar material ground properties, geological structure, stratigraphy, grade of weathering etc.

Select a typical cross section for each area

Assess discontinuity data and rock mass strength data and decide on likely failure modes (there may be more than one)

Select groundwater levels in the slope

Perform stability analyses

Re-configure slope geometry if Factor of Safety is unacceptable.


Dumps and Stockpiles

Analytical methods for dumps and stockpiles include:

the method of slices, circular or non-circular

multiple wedge/sliding block analyses.

A typical design implementation would include:

Group together all slopes that comprise similar dump/stockpile material, similar foundations and water pressures, and similar geometry

Select a representative typical cross section through each group.

Assign material parameters and groundwater levels

Perform stability analyses to determine the required slope angles to ensure Factors of Safety are acceptable.

As a general guide, circular stability analysis should always be carried out. If the foundations soils below the dump or stockpile contain soft or weak layers sandwiched between stronger layers, then multiple wedge/sliding block type analyses should also be carried out to assess sliding along these weak layers.

Short term slope stability can be assessed using the undrained total stress shear strength parameters of the soils (Cu, fu). However, since slopes must be stable in the long term, an effective stress analysis using effective stress parameters (c’and f’) and pore water pressures should be used for final design.

These stress parameters are referred to as follows:



cohesion intercept for undrained, total stress conditions,



cohesion intercept for effective stresses,



internal angle of friction for undrained, total stress conditions, and



internal angle of friction for effective stresses.



The construction programme should minimise the need to return to an area more than once. Within the open pit or quarry distinguish between production faces and final slopes. A production face does not need to fulfil the stability requirements of a final slope and should be designed to maximise mine productivity.

As a production face approaches the limits of the mine, the mining method may have to be modified to form the final slope. Modifications may include reducing the height between benches, or using smooth blasting techniques as the final round. Returning to an area to clean up final slopes is expensive since it often requires activities outside of the normal mine operation. Hence progressive formation of final slopes is considered most desirable.



1. Hoek, E., and Bray, J.W. (1981). Rock Slope Engineering, IMM, London.

2. Department of Mines, Western Australia. (1991). Guidelines on Safety Bund Walls Around Abandoned Open Pits, Perth.

3. International Committee on Large Dams. (1982). Manual on Tailings Dams and Dumps. ICOLD Bulletin No.45.

4. Australian Standard AS 1289. (1991). “Methods of Testing Soils for Engineering Purposes”.





For small scale mining operations in Queensland, certain generalised criteria can be provided to assist the selection of acceptable slope angles. The conditions controlling stability will always be site specific, hence due care should be taken when applying these criteria. In particular, if there is a history of unstable slopes in the area, particularly during mining operations, then specific geotechnical studies should be carried out.

These criteria are intended to apply to operations which are remote from population centres and involve pits:

having volumes not exceeding 100,000 m 3 , and

depths of not greater than 20 m.



A slope is geotechnically stable if it does not physically collapse. The Factor of Safety is a measure of the confidence that

collapse will not occur.



Any mine operation will contain several types of slope, eg. cut pit slopes and waste dumps slopes. The first step in ensuring stable slopes is to categorise areas on the mine site according to slope type.

Groups of similar slope types can then be assessed separately. The procedure is as follows:


Prepare a site plan indicating all areas of excavation (pits), filling, stockpiles, dumps, and dams.


Allocate to each area one of the slope classifications given in Table 1.1.


For each slope classification, refer to the guidelines given in the following sections.


Slope Type



Cut slopes above areas which will be open to access by the public and by stock.


Cut slopes above areas where access is prohibited.


Slopes to dumps and other stockpiles.


Low wall spoil slopes (strip mines).


Fill slopes to retaining embankments (eg. tailings dams, water dams).




The two main cut slope categories depend on whether access is allowed below the slope. Where access is prohibited, allowing gradual collapse to a stable state may be acceptable and feasible, and hence initial steeper slopes may be permitted. This approach needs to incorporate barriers above and behind the cut slopes to physically prevent access to the potentially unstable pit edge zone. More severe restrictions are required for cut slopes which remain above areas freely accessible to people and stock.

Type C1 Slopes

Generally, overall slope angles in unweathered (unoxidised) rock should not be steeper than 1 vertical to 1 horizontal (1V:1H), with individual bench faces no steeper than 2V:1H. If there is a history of stable slopes at steeper angles supported by documented evidence and, (preferably), still standing old and abandoned faces, then steeper slopes may be acceptable.

If the rock slopes are cut by unfavourable geological features such as weak fault zones or joints (or bedding planes dipping steeply out of the face), and along which the overlying rock could slide, then the slopes should be assessed on a case by case basis. Unstable slopes will require battering back to a safe angle or made inaccessible and treated as if a Type C2 Slope.

Slopes cut in weathered (oxidised) rock, overburden or soil should not be steeper than the following:

1 (V) : 1.5 (H)

for slopes less than 5 m high and without groundwater seepage.

1 (V) : 2.5 (H)

for all other slope conditions.

For slopes which cut through a mixed profile, (for example, of weathered rock/overburden overlying unweathered rock), the above maximum angles should be applied to each relevant material. These slope angles assume that no instability problems have been previously experienced in the area or during operations.

Type C2 Slopes

For cut slopes to which access will be prevented, bund walls should be provided which:

are located at least 10 m outside the area overlying the potentially unstable rock mass, ie. the total of the width of the “potentially unstable pit edge zone” plus 10 m away from the existing pit edge (Figure 1.1);

have a minimum height of 2 m and a minimum base width of 4 m; and

wherever possible, are constructed from unweathered, freely draining, end dumped rockfill. When only oxidised rock is available for construction of the safety bund wall, the least weathered or hardest material should be used. In these cases, the bund wall may need to be supplemented by a properly constructed fence.

Suitable signs, clearly stating public safety risk and prohibiting public access, should be erected outside the safety bund wall. Additionally, shrub and/or tree planting at the outside edge of the bund wall should be implemented where practicable, to lessen the visual impact of the wall.



Type F1 Slopes

Dumps and stockpiles tend to be constructed by end tipping, hence operating slope angles approximate the angle of repose of the dumped material. Coarse rock dumps will have side slopes steeper than dumps of finer grained and clayey materials such as soil and (oxidised) weathered rock.

In many situations, desired end landform and other environmental requirements will determine the final slope angle. Such requirements generally involve flatter slopes than those needed to ensure geotechnical stability.

Where geotechnical stability is the determining requirement, two options are available:

(a) Long term steep side slopes can be developed by constructing a perimeter bund of compacted waste or stockpile material within which the bulk of the dump or stockpile can be end tipped or placed in the usual mine operation method. Typical compacted bund slopes would be:


unweathered rock

1 (V) : 1.75 (H)


weathered rock, overburden, up to 15 m high -

1 (V) : 2.5 (H)


weathered rock, overburden, greater than 15 m high-

1 (V) : 3 (H)

These maximum slope angles apply to relatively level sites (ie. with ground slope less than 10%), with stable foundation soil and rock materials. Sites that are steeper or have weak foundation conditions should be individually assessed by geotechnical investigation.

(b) Alternatively, end tipped and hence poorly compacted materials can be dozed and graded out to flatter slopes at the end of operations. As a general guide, final slopes should be no greater than half the angle of repose of the end tipped material as measured on-site. Since most materials have angles of repose of less than or equal to 1(V):1.5(H), final graded slopes should not exceed 1(V):3(H).

Again, dumps and stockpiles on sites which are steep or have weak foundation conditions should be individually assessed.

Type F2 Slopes

Low wall spoil slopes commonly adopted in Queensland coal fields are generally in the order of 1(V):1.5(H). However, actual slopes depend on the nature of the spoil and its degree of compaction. Poorly compacted mudstone/shale spoils can become saturated and breakdown after repeated wet season exposure. Flatter slopes will result.

Type F3 Slopes

All embankments retaining lagoons of tailings, water or other materials should be designed and constructed using sound engineering practice. As a general guide, slopes of 1(V):2.5(H) are commonly adopted for embankments up to about 15 m in height and which also incorporate internal drainage blankets.