An improved understanding of pillar strength and pillar failure mechanisms is required to optimize tabular mine layout designs. The paper describes the application of a limit equilibrium model for pillar failure analysis. It is shown that the model is capable of reproducing a hardening or softening response for uniformly compressed strip or square pillars. The stress–strain behavior depends on three non-dimensional parameters Q, M and β. Q represents the ratio of the limit failed uniaxial strength to the intact material strength, M is the ratio of the failed limit strength envelope slope to the intact strength envelope slope and β is proportional to the pillar width to height ratio. The model is implemented in a displacement discontinuity solution scheme using unstructured triangular elements to allow irregular plan-view pillar shapes and mining step increments to be represented. The seam-parallel confining stress distribution in the fracture zone is determined using a fast marching solution algorithm. A case study of an experimental pillar extraction site in a platinum mine is presented to illustrate the capability of the model to simulate the evolution of pillar failure as pillar extraction proceeds. Good qualitative agreement to observed failure trends are obtained but the detailed calibration of the model parameters remains a challenge. Further work is required to enhance the representation of pillar edge spalling processes.