The panel is to look into risks to mineworkers, mines and the public by seismic events in mining areas.
The Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate indicates that fall-of-ground is still the main culprit in injuries and deaths on site.
In its 2004/5 Annual Report, it says that “falls-of-ground accidents are still a nightmare in the labour-intensive deep-level gold- and platinum-mines; while the mostly opencast and more mechanised other mines need more vigilance towards machinery and transportation in mining-related hazards to improve the safety situation of our industry”.
Last year, the fatality rate due to fall-of-ground accidents for every 1 000 miners was 0,36 while injuries were at 4,84.
It is estimated that the investigation could take up to six months with an early deadline for the completion of work anticipated to be in December.
Particular emphasis is to be placed on gold-mines, remnant mining, pillar mining and mining districts in which mines are largely mined out and in the process of being flooded.
The department's chief inspector of mines, May Hermanus, has appointed the team, which will provide clarity on issues such as risk to the public when large seismic events occur in mining districts.
It will also look into the implications for infrastructure planning and disaster management in these areas.
Specifically, the team will examine whether the quake at DRDGold's liquidated North West operations - Buffelsfontein and Haartbeesfontein - on March 9 can be ascribed to mining activities.
This week, the DME released a report on the DRD accident and indicated that the seismic event was triggered by strain changes in the rock mass.
However, evidence at the inquiry was inconclusive to prove beyond reasonable doubt whether it was mining-induced or a natural phenomenon.
The inquiry also revealed irregularities, which will be handled by way of administrative fines and referral to the Department of Justice for further action.
DRDGold, in a statement said that it rejected the recommendation that the firm be fined due to the mine accident.
”There is ... no basis for imposing any administrative fine on the owner of the mine,” a company statement said.
According to Reuters, quoting a departmental spokesperson, the amount of the fine had not yet been determined.
DRDGold said no evidence was presented to support conclusions in the report that there was a shortage of support, inadequate ventilation and poor management control.
”DRDGold denies the correctness of the conclusions drawn by the department from the testimony presented at the inquiry,” the statement said, citing evidence at the hearing from a seismologist who said it was very unlikely that the tremor was caused by mining.
The department also indicated other irregularities such as a shortage of material, improper staffing, extremely long gullies, poor management control and inadequate ventilation in the gullies which could have aggravated the consequences of the seismic events and affected rescue operations.
The magnitude 5,3 tremor caused rockfalls in access tunnels and damaged houses and shops in the nearby town of Stilfontein, about 155 km south-west of Johannesburg.
The inquiry primarily sought to establish the underlying and contributory causes of the seismic events, which resulted in the death of two employees and injured 20 people.
DME will also be casting its net wider than just the one incident, a move that has been welcomed by trade union Solidarity.
Spokesperson Reint Dykema tells Mining Weekly Online that the union welcomes an overarching examination of the causes of these events.
He said that mines tended to implement their own control measures without regard for what each other is doing, and a holistic approach would go further towards stopping the carnage.
Dykema added that the union would lend its support to the team, which will also examine the probability of repeat occurrences in the same or other mining districts, especially where the mines are mature and large areas are mined out.
The team is to look at the effects of flooding and the corresponding rising water levels on the stability of faults and other geological features and whether the placement of slimes and other mining discards underground can alleviate the situation.
The team, which will be headed up by CSIR Miningtek's Dr Ray Durrheim, boasts a number of experts who will serve as assessors, as well as mine inspectors from the Pretoria, Gauteng, North West and Free State offices of the mine inspectorate.
Other experts on the team include pioneers of seismic research, rock engineers and seismologists specialising in seismically-active areas.