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Obituary: Dennis Laubscher, Pioneer of Block Caving

Legend of the mining industry, Dennis Laubscher, South Africa’s and the world’s foremost authority on block caving techniques, died on Feb. 3 at the age of 91 at Bushman’s River Mouth, Eastern Cape. He is survived by four adult children (Susan Stampanoni, Dionne, Tessa and Robert Laubscher) from his first marriage to Patricia May (nee Binnie), who died on Aug. 29, 2002, their elder son Carl having also passed away. On Feb. 27, 2004, Dennis married Michelle (nee Broster).

 

Born in Tulbagh, Western Cape, on Oct. 1, 1929, Laubscher earned a BSc (Eng) in mining geology in 1952, and a PhD in 1964, both from the University of the Witwatersrand. His career was highlighted by numerous awards: the South Africa Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) Gold Medal in 1995; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Institute of Rock Engineering in 1998; the De Beers Mass Mining Award at Massmin 2000; and the Brigadier Stokes Platinum Medal from the SAIMM in 2007.

His career included a two-year stint as an exploration geologist with Bethlehem Steel and a 29-year position with African Associated Mines in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as a mining geologist and geomechanics consultant. He joined Steffen Robertson and Kirsten, the forerunner of today’s SRK Consulting, in Johannesburg in 1984.

Laubscher created his own consulting firm in 1987 and, until shortly before his death, he was active in Australia, Canada, Chile, Greece, Indonesia, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Swaziland, the United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

In the 1970s, while working on mines in Rhodesia, Laubscher’s first major contribution to the caving industry was the introduction of the mining rock mass rating system (MRMR). This classification system evolved from Z.T. Bieniawski’s rock mass rating system (RMR) and was specifically designed for caving mines. It was intended to help mining practitioners effectively communicate between disciplines and to provide a tool for developing empirical guidelines for mining method selection and cave design.

In 2000, International Caving Study (ICS) published the first comprehensive manual on block caving—a practical handbook authored by Laubscher. This manual was not widely available, but demand for more information about the method was growing. So, in 2017, using the previous manual as background information, the University of Queensland in Australia published the Guidelines on Caving Mining Methods, co-authored by Laubscher, Alan Guest, and Jarek Jakubec.

As he traveled the world, Laubscher made unique and lasting friendships and was a mentor to many. His colleagues around the world responded to news of his death with their observations on his legacies. An “uncompromising humanist,” he made an impact on people as well as projects. He has been called a “titan” of the mining industry, a “pioneer,” of block caving, and “the John Wayne of rock mechanics.” The mining world has indeed lost a true original. Laubscher’s contributions to the industry and its people will remain a stellar legacy.

This obituary was produced through collaboration between SRK Consulting, Alan Guest, and the Northern Miner.

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