Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 5

Assessment of rock slope stabi'lity using the

Rock Mass Rating (RMR) system


By C M ORR
1
, Member
ABSTRACT
The Rock Mass Rating (RMR) and Rock Mass Strength (RMS)
classification systems for jointed rock masses are briefly reviewed, with
particular reference to their use in slope stability studies. A correlation is
provided between the results obtained from the two classifications and an
equation is presented tentatively defining the RMR value for long-term
stable slope angles. The validity of the equation is discussed in general
terms in the context of slope stability problems commonly encountered in
Western Australian open pit gold mines.
KEYWORDS: open pits, rock mass classifications, slope angles, slope
stability, swelling clays.
INTRODUCTION
The Rock Mass Rating (RMR) system, also known as the
Geomechanics Classification, was developed in 1973 as a means of
assessing permanent rock support requirements for underground
excavations (Bieniawski, 1973). Initially applied to civil
engineering projects (tunnels and underground caverns),
modifications to the original classification resulted in it being used
for mining applications, rippability studies, dam foundations and
slope stability (Bieniawski, 1988).
A similar rock mass classification, based on the RMR System
concept and known as the Rock Mass Strength (RMS) system, was
developed by geomorphologists and used to correlate 'rock
strength' with stable slope angles of natural rock outcrops (Selby,
1980; Moon and Selby, 1983). This classification, although
apparently less well-known than its engineering contemporary, has
obvious applications to rock slope stability studies associated with
mining and civil engineering projects.
The purpose of this paper is fourfold, namely to
1. briefly summarise the RMR and RMS systems and their use in
slope stability studies,
2. correlate results from the RMR and RMS systems,
3. provide an equation that tentatively defines the relationship
between stable slope angles in jointed rock and RMR system
values, and
4. discuss, in general terms, the validity of using the RMR versus
slope angle relationship in the context of slope stability
problems commonly encountered in Western Australian open
pit gold mines.
THE ROCK MASS RATING (RMR) SYSTEM
A comprehensive description of the RMR system and its
application to engineering projects has recently been published by
Bieniawski (1988).
The RMR system classifies jointed rock masses using the
following six parameters.
1. uniaxial compressive strength ofrock material
2. rock quality designation (RQD)
3. spacing of discontinuities
4. condition of discontinuities
5. groundwater conditions
6. orientation of discontinuities.
Ratings are allotted to each of the above parameters, depending
on their actual measured values. The first five ratings are summed
to yield a basic rock mass rating. Adjustments are subsequently
made to the basic rating for the influence of discontinuity
orientations to give a final (adjusted) rock mass rating (RMR)
value. This ranges from 0 to 100 with high RMR values indicating
better rock mass conditions. Five rock mass classes are
distinguished on the basis of the final rock mass ratings (Table 1).
TABLE 1
Rock mass classes determined/rom total ratings
(after Bieniawski (1988).
RMR Value Class Description
<20 V Very poor rock
21 - 40 IV Poor rock
41 -60 III Fair rock
61 - 80 II Good rock
>80 I Very good rock
Output from the classification is in the form of average stand-up
time for unsupported tunnel roof spans and cohesion and friction
angles for the rock mass.
Slope stability applications
TABLE 2
Pit wall angles versus RMR class (after Laubscher, 1975).
The first published application of the RMR system to slope stability
was by Laubscher (1975) who used adjusted rock mass classes to
provide an experience-based guide to slope angles applicable to
open pit mining. Laubscher's proposed relationship is given in
Table 2.
1.
2.
3.
Principal, George, Orr and Associates; Associate, James Askew
Associates (pty) Ltd (Australia).
Chris Orr was born in Zimbabwe and graduated from the University
of Natal, South Africa in 1973 with a MSc degree in Geology. He
worked with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the
Geological Survey and as consulting engineering geologist in South
Africa, before emigrating to Australia in 1986. He is the
author/co-author of 14 publications dealing with various aspects of
engineering geology, slope stability and rock mechanics.
Original manuscript received September 1991.
Revised manuscript received March 1992.
Adjusted Class 1
Pit Wall Angle (0) 75
2
65
3
55
4
45
5
35
The AusIMMProceedings No21992 25
CMORR
Steffen (1976) used the average values of rock mass cohesion
and friction angle, derived from the RMR system, to determine the
stability of 35 slopes (of which 20 had failed) with respect to
circular failure. Results were largely inconclusive, although some
statistical trend was found between factors of safety (FOS) and
incidences of failure. FOS values of up to 1.2 existed for failed
slopes while some apparently stable slopes exhibited FOS values of
0.7. Despite this, the general RMR classification approach was
described as being useful as a preliminary investigative tool for
slope stability studies.
Hall (1985) described a graphical correlation between RMR
values and slope angles in jointed rock masses. It was used to
estimate stable slope angles for railway cuttings in South Africa.
The correlation was provided for slope heights of less than 20 m,
excavated within rock masses of RMR 20 ie, poor quality or
better. A recommended design line was provided, the equation for
which has subsequently been calculated as
Slope angle = 0.65 RMR + 25 .... (1).
for slope height < 20 m, and RMR 20.
More recent applications of the RMR system have involved
forecasting typical stability problems and determining potential
slope support measures (Romana, 1985 and 1988). The original
RMR system was modified, taking into account the influence of
excavation methods on slope stability and providing a more
detailed description of joint favourability with respect to potential
instability. A similar approach was described by Singh, Elmherig
and Sunu (1986) in assessing the slope stability of two granite
quarries.
Robertson (1988), using a modified RMR system. showed that
when the RMR exceeds 40, slope stability is determined by the
orientation of and strength along discontinuities. Where the rating
is less than 30, slope failure may occur through the rock mass at
any joint orientation.
Figure 1 summarises the existing RMR versus slope angle
relationships proposed by various authors.
THE ROCK MASS STRENGTH (RMS) CLASSIFICATION
A Rock Mass Strength (RMS) classification was developed by
Selby in 1980 and used by geomorphologists to explain the
relationship between 'rock mass strength' and the long-term stable
slope angles of natural rock outcrops (Selby, 1980; Selby, 1982;
Moon and Selby, 1983; Selby, 1987).
The RMS classification uses similar (but not identical) input
parameters to the RMR system.
1. strength of intact rock
2. state of rock weathering
DESCRIPTION

VERY BAD:
SOIL-LIKE
FAILURES
BAD: PLANAR
OR BIG WEDGE
FAILURES
PARTIALLY
STABLE: SOME STABLE: SOME
BLOCK FAILURES
VERY GOOD:
COMPLETELY
STABLE
1----
__J

LAUBSCHER{1975}
2 HALL (1985)
3 ROMANA{1988}
RMR +25
70 SLOPES oc20m HIGH}
60
en
u.i
50
...J
CJ
Z
cC
w 40
(f) L
0 ------
...J
en
30
20
10
80
90---,---------------------------/
RMR 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
ROCK
CLASS
CLASS V: VERY
POOR ROCK
CLASS IV:
POOR ROCK
CLASS Ill:
FAIR ROCK
CLASS 11:
GOOD ROCK
CLASS I: VERY
GOOD ROCK
FIG 1 - Summary of existing RMR versus slope angle relationships.
26
No21992
The AusIMMProceedings
3. joint spacing
4. joint width (aperture)
5. orientations of joints with respect to the slope
6. joint continuity
7. outflow of groundwater.
Each of the parameters are assigned ratings which are then
summed to provide the rock mass strength (RMS).
Correlations are provided between RMS values and natural slope
angles. These were measured from long slope profiles. of up to
several hundred metres in height, developed on a variety of
igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock outcrops in Antarctica,
New Zealand, South Africa and Namibia. Rock outcrops were
jointed. unbuttressed and lacked major continuous defects which
were critical for slope stability.
A straight line equation (with a correlation co-efficient of 0.88).
linking RMS and slope angle (S). was proposed for the Antarctic
and New Zealand examples (Selby. 1980):
RMS = 49 + 0.42S ...... (2)
Selby (1980) claims that by using equation (2), the inclination of
a slope can be estimated from the RMS value with a standard error
of 5.1.
South African and Namibian examples (Moon and Selby. 1983)
were presented in a graphical form which also showed a straight
line correlation between RMS and slope angle (S). An equation for
this correlation was not presented in the original paper but
examination of the graph shows it to be identical to equation (2).
APPLICABILITY OF THE RMR SYSTEM AND THE RMS
CLASSIFICATIO TO SLOPE STA8ILITY STUDIES
Although the RMR System is arguably the most well known and
applied method of classifying rock masses for engineering
purposes, it has a number of shortcomings. particularly when it is
applied outside the area of tunnel support design, for which it was
originally intended. These include its lack of sensitivity to changes
in the classification parameters and its predilection for the central
(fair rock) class. (Kirsten. 1988); overemphasis of the intact rock
strength rating given to the classification. (Kirsten. 1988; Hall,
1985); and the lack of emphasis given to rock joint shear strengths
and groundwater conditions, considering their importance to rock
slope stability (Hall, 1985).
Two additional criticisms that may be added are
1. the lack of correlation between RMR values. slope angle and
slope height. The latter two variables are linked and are of
fundamental importance in any attempt to correlate rock
quality with stable slope angles. and
2. the influence of time upon the stability of rock slopes is
ignored. Vanarsdale. Costello and Marcelletti (1989) show, for
example, that a progressive decrease in pit wall angles over a
time span of ten to 30 years occurred in coal-bearing strata in
the USA. Other examples undoubtedly exist but are not well
reported in the literature.
Although a number of the above criticisms may also be
applicable to the RMS classification, the published data (Selby.
1980) relates rock mass strength to slopes of varying heights
exposed over periods of geological time (ie. slopes which may be
regarded, in the engineering sense, as being in a state of limiting
equilibrium). The RMS classification is therefore extremely
valuable in predicting long-term stable slope angles. It can also be
used to provide a tentative correlation with the more widely known.
engineering-oriented, RMR classification and hence a relationship
between RMR values and long-term stable slope angles for jointed
rock.
Correlation between RMS and RMR classifications
RMS data published by Selby (1980) have been re-analysed and
described in the form of the RMR system (using the 1988 version
ASSESSMENT OF ROCK SLOPE STABILITY USING THE RMR SYSTEM
100
90
.....
Cl)
Cl)
80 Ol
~
:i
70
III
~
III
C
eo
Ql
iD
RMR 6 2.2 RMS-130
....
50
' 6 0.88
Cl
~
.....
40
<
a:
Cl)
30 Cl)
<
::lE
:le:
20
()
0
10 a:
0+-,--,--.------r---,----+-,--,--.-----1
o 10 20 30 40 50 eo 70 80 90 100
ROCK MASS STRENGTH (Selby. 1980)
FIG 2 - RMR versus RMS correlation.
of the latter by Bieniawski (1988. Some scaller occurs (Figure 2)
but the general relationship for 15 data sets was found to be
RMR = 2.2 RMS - 130 ...... (3)
with a correlation co-efficient of 0.88.
Prediction of stable slope angles from RMR values
Figure 3 shows a compilation of RMR values (derived using
equation (3 and slope angle data obtained from the information
published by Selby (1980) and Moon and Selby (1983). Slope
heights have been arbitrarily subdivided into the range: less than 10
m. 10 - 20 m. 20 - 40 m and greater than 40 m. RMR versus slope
angle relationships for nine failed slopes less than 20 m high.
extracted from Hall (1985). are also shown.
The graph shows that
1. the general RMR versus slope angle relationship is non-linear.
2. no data are available for slopes with an RMR of less than 20 or
greater than 77.
3. a lower-bound equation filled to the data gives a relationship
between slope angle (S) and RMR value of
S = 35 In (RMR) - 71 ..... (4)
This relationship is proposed as the limit of long-term stability
that can realistically be expected for slopes up to 50 m high
and exhibiting RMR values of between 20 and 77 (ie, poor to
good rock). It must be stressed that the data are only
applicable to southern African. New Zealand and Antarctic
examples. A separate study in Australia is needed to verify the
relationship under local conditions and to establish the
relationship between RMR and stable slope angles for
short-time periods, ie open pit operational life spans as
opposed to geological time. and
4. the limited data and their scatter preludes meaningful analysis.
at this stage, for relationships between slope angle and slope
height for rock masses of similar quality.
Although equation (4) gives the impression that steep stable
slopes can be formed in jointed rock masses of mediocre quality, it
must be stressed that RMR values in excess of 40 cannot be
The AuslMM Proceedings No21992 27
CMORR
ROCK QUALITY (Blenlawskl, 1988)
GOOD FAIR POOR VERY POOR
90
A
_ _ ? LIMIT OF LONG-TERM
80
STABILITY?
0
70
A
0
60
SLOPE ANGLE =35In(RMR}-71
w
for RMR 20-80
-J
C'
50
z
4(
w
40
A FAILED SLOPES <20m HIGH (Hall, 1985)
D.
0
0
.. tOm HIGH }
-J
10-20 HIGH NA TURAL SLOPES et)
30 I
li.
m (Selby, 1980;
I x
20-40m HIGH Moon cl Selby, 1983)
20
?

40-50m HIGH
10
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
ROCK MASS RATING (RMR)
FIG 3 - RMR versus slope angle relationship.
achieved when very unfavourable Jomtmg (from a stability
viewpoint) occurs in even the highest quality rock mass. This
situation arises as a consequence of a rating adjustment of -60 being
applicable for 'very unfavourable' joint orientations (Bieniawski,
1988). Very unfavourable joint orientations must be analysed as
specific cases.
Excavation methods also significantly influence the stability of
artificially formed slopes (Romana, 1988) and this aspect should
always be considered when assessing realistic wall angles.
EXPERIENCE FROM OPEN PITS IN WESTERN
AUSTRALIA
Common slope stability problems encountered in Western
Australian open pit gold mines have been described by Rosengren
and Swindells (1988), Swindells (1990) and Orr, Swindells and
Windsor (1991). Based on data in these publications and the
author's experience, the applicability of using the RMR versus
slope angle relationship (equation (4 for estimating stable pit
slope angles is discussed below.
In very general terms, the geology exposed in typical WA gold
mine pits may be subdivided into three broad categories.
I. a surface lateritised (caprock) layer, commonly extending to
depths of 2 to 5 m and occasionally 8 m
2. an intermediate layer of weathered rock (saprolite), extending
to depths of up to 80 m
3. a lowermost layer of fresh (unweathered) rock
The uppermostlateritised layers exhibit RMR values in the range
45 - 70 (fair to good rock). Stable slope angles of 65 to 75 are
commonly achieved over the life of a typical open pit (one to five
years). Failures within this layer are rare and only normally occur
as a result of undercutting, following slope failures within the
underlying weathered rock.
The intermediate weathered rock layer, commonly referred to as
'oxidised rock' or 'saprolite', generally exhibits structurally
controlled instability in the form of planar, wedge or toppling
failures along relict joints. The high degree of rock weathering and
closely jointed nature of the material, often combined with adverse
joint orientations, invariably give rise to very poor to poor rock
conditions (RMR ~ 20 to 40). Stable overall slope angles above
45 are seldom achieved in pit walls with lives greater then one to
two years, although steeper slopes are commonly cut for mining
operations. Increased pore water pressures, following heavy
rainfall or abandonment of pit dewatering procedures, are attributed
to as being the cause of most failures.
Instances also occur where wall instability is exacerbated by the
presence of swelling clay minerals, developed by weathering and/or
alteration processes of the original tuff, basalt or amphibolite rock.
These clays, which occur within the rock material and also as a
joint infill, swell and shrink with varying moisture regimes, giving
rise to loosening of joint-bounded blocks of rock within the slopes.
This loosening is often the precursor to progressive (ravelling type)
slope failures. An example of this ravelling process, recorded from
a 35 m high slope excavated within an apparently fresh dolerite
containing swelling clays, is described by Orr (1979). Slopes
excavated in rocks containing swelling clays should be regarded
--
28 N021992 The AuslMM Proceedings
with caution, and their stability, both in the long- and short-tenn,
cannot adequately be predicted by classification methods.
Depending on the inclination of rock jointing and its effect on
wall stability, fresh rock commonly exhibits RMR values of
between 40 and 60. A moderate to steeply dipping, pronounced
rock foliation, is common. Most slope instabilities occur as planar
failures in the footwall slope (where foliation is undercut) or
toppling failures in the hangingwall. Stable slopes with overall wall
angles of 55 to 60 are generally achieved. Reinforcement, in the
form of cable bolting, has often been used to increase stability of
steeper slopes.
The above general examples are in broad agreement with the
RMR versus slope angle relationship given in equation (4), and
demonstrate its usefulness in providing a first approximation of
stable slope angles for slopes up to 50 m high.
CONCLUSIONS
Using published data, a tentative correlation has been made
between the results of the RMR system (a relatively simple and
well known rock classification used primarily in underground
engineering practice) and the RMS classification (a similar
classification used for geomorphological studies).
The relationship between stable long-tenn slope angles and RMR
values, derived from the original RMS classification database, is
non-linear. The limited data available exhibit a degree of scatter
that precludes it being used at this stage for meaningful analysis of
the influence of slope height on the stability of various quality rock
masses. This situation should improve as more data become
available.
Some typical general examples of the applicability of the RMR
system to slope stability assessments carried out in Western
Australian open pit gold mines demonstrate that the overall concept
is realistic. However, considerably more field examples are
required to improve current knowledge on the effect of time on
slope stability and the relationship between slope height, slope
angle and rock quality. It is hoped that additional study and the
collection and correlation of additional data by other workers will
improve the correlation described in this paper.
It is considered that the RMR versus slope angle relationship
described here is useful in providing a first approximation of
stable long-tenn slope angles that can be excavated within jointed
rock masses for slopes up to 50 m high. In common with most
classification approaches however, it should not be used solely for
detailed design purposes.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The interest shown and advice provided by Messrs C Windsor,
Senior Rock Mechanics Engineer, Rock Mechanics Research
Centre, CSIRO, Perth and M Lee, Principal Geotechnical Engineer,
James Askew Associates Pty Ltd, Melbourne is acknowledged.
ASSESSMENT OF ROCK SLOPE STABILITY USING THE RMR SYSTEM
REFERENCES
Bieniawski, Z. T., 1973. Engineering classification of jointed rock masses.
Trans. S. Afr.lnst. Civ. Engrs., 15:335-344.
Bieniawski, Z. T., 1988. The Rock Mass Rating (RMR) system
(Geomechanics Classification) in engineering practice, in Rock
Classification Systems for Engineering Purposes, (Ed. L Kirkaldie), pp
17-34, Publication SPT 984 (ASTM: Philadelphia).
Hall, B. E., 1985. Preliminary estimation of slope angles, in Symposium on
Rock Mass Characteristics. pp 120-121 (South African National Group
on Rock Mechanics: Johannesburg).
Kirsten, H., 1988. Discussion to 'Rock Mass Rating (RMR) system
(Geomechanics classification) in engieering practice' by Z T Bieniawski,
in Rock Classification Systems for Engineering Purposes, (Ed. L
Kirkaldie). p 32, Publication SPT 984, ( ASTM: Philadelphia).
Laubscher, D. H., 1975. Class distinction in rock masses. Coal, Gold and
Base Minerals ofSouthern Africa, pp 37-50.
Moon, B. P. and Selby, M. J., 1983. Rock Mass Strength and scarp forms in
Southern Africa. GeograflSika Annaler. Ser.A, 65:135-145.
Orr, C. M., 1979. Rapid weathering dolerites. Trans. S. Afr. Inst. Civ.
Engrs., Vo121, No 7:161-167.
Orr, C. M., Swindells, C. E and Windsor, C. R., 1991. Open pit toppling
failures experience versus analysis. Proceedings of 7th International
Conference on Computer Methods and Advances in Geomechanics (Eds.
Beer, Boorker and Carter), pp 505-510 (Balkema: Rotterdam).
Robertson, A. M., 1988. Estimating weak rock strength, in AlME - SME
Annual Meeting, Phoenix, Az, 1988, preprint No 88-145 (AIME-SME:
Romana, M., 1985. New adjustment ratings for application of Bieniawski
classification to slopes. Int. Symp. on the Role of Rock Mechanics,
Zacatecas, Mexico, pp 49-53.
Romana, M., 1988. Practice of SMR classification for slope appraisal.
?roe. 5thlnt. Symp. on Landslides, Lausanne, pp 1227-1231.
Rosengren, K. J. and Swindells, C. E, 1988. Slope stability in open pit gold
mines. Conf on R&Dfor the Minerals Industry, pp 122-127. (WA School
of Mines: Kalgoorlie).
Selby, M. J., 1980. A rock mass strength classification for geomorphic
purposes: with tests from Antarctica and New Zealand. Z. Geomorph. N
F, Vol24,No 1:31-51.
Selby, M. J., 1982. Controls on the stability and inclinations of hillslopes
formed on hard rock. Earth Surface Processes and Lanciforms,
7:449-467.
Selby, M. J., 1987. Rock slopes in Slope Stability, (Eds M G Anderson and
K S Richards), pp 475-504 (John Wiley: New York).
Singh, R. N., Elmherif, A. M. and Sunu, M. Z., 1986. Application of rock
mass characterisation to the stability assessment and blast design in hard
rock surface mining excavations in 27th US Symposium on Rock
Mechanics, pp 471-478 (University of Alabama).
Steffen, O. K. H., 1976. Research and development needs in data collecting
for rock engineering. Proc. Symp. on Exploration for Rock Engineering,
Johannesburg, pp 93-104 (A A Balkema: The Netherlands).
Swindells, C. E, 1990. Geotechnical studies for open pit mines: West
Australian operating experience. Proc. Mine Geologists Cont, Mt Isa, pp
167-170 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy:
Melbourne).
Vanarsdale, R., Costello, P. and Marcelletti, N., 1990. Denudation of
Highwalls near Manchester, Kentucky. Eng. Geol., 26:112-123.
The AusIMM Proceedings N021992 29