Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigtors have not moved quickly enough in cases involving possible criminal behavior leading to mine safety violations, the Labor Department's Inspector General has reported.
The vast majority of mine safety violations are accidental. Occasionally, however, coal operators, foremen or even miners themselves break the law knowingly. Deciding whether that is the case is the role of a special investigations unit within MSHA.
But the unit often misses its own agency's timelines for action in such cases, the Inspector General reported after an audit.
MSHA head Joe Main responded that the agency's timelines are guidelines, not requirements. He added delays occur because of the need to be thorough in probes of potential criminal activity.
He is right, of course. Accusing someone of criminal acts that endanger mines is a serious thing.
Still, Main and his staff should look at whether the investigations can be accelerated to ensure willful safety violations are deterred quickly and effectively.