Senator Murray Introduces Legislation to Ensure that Mine Victims' Families Get the Best Information First

Oct 03 2007

Mine Disaster Family Assistance Act will use National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) model to provide accurate, consistent information to families during a tragedy

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced legislation yesterday (10/2) that will help ensure that families of miners are provided with timely and accurate information when their loved ones are involved in a mine accident. The legislation follows high profile accidents in Sago, West Virginia and Crandall Canyon, Utah in which inaccurate and inconsistent information compounded family tragedies.

Senator Murray's legislation is closely modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) highly effective family assistance program used during major aviation accidents in this country to care for victims and their families.

Read a summary of Senator Murray's Mine Disaster Family Assistance Act

Senator Murray discussed her legislation yesterday at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee exploring the tragedy at Crandall Canyon.  Many of the family members of lost miners from Crandall Canyon attended the hearing. Senator Murray's comments follow:

"Miners work hard on the job every day to provide for the energy demands of our country and the needs of their families at home.  As a nation, we owe them more than a debt of gratitude—we owe them our sincere efforts to ensure that each and every miner returns home safely.

"And we also owe their families. We owe their families a guarantee that they will be treated with respect, dignity, and consistency if they are ever faced with tragedy.

"As I know many of my colleagues and the witnesses here have done, I have talked with many of the families who've lost their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons to mining tragedies.  The pain I saw in their eyes is something very few of us have had to endure. And, it's something I'll never forget.

"As I watched the tragedy play out at Crandall Canyon, I was angered to see that the families of victims were subject to an emotional rollercoaster caused by inaccurate and inconsistent information sharing.

"I think we can all agree that the families of victims deserve better than receiving life and death information from the nightly news.

"Tragedies like Sago and Crandall are only compounded when family members are not given the best information first.

"That's why I will soon be introducing the Mine Disaster Family Assistance Act of 2007 to address this problem. 

"As Chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I am very familiar with the model used by the NTSB to ensure families have the best information in the aftermath of an accident.  My bill, which incorporates that model, does three things.

"First, it establishes a family care and support program director at MSHA who puts the concerns of the accident victim’s family first.  Often times there is confusion about the responsibilities of the party's involved and who is communicating with the family and the public about what is happening during an emergency.  This bill defines those responsibilities and delegates a family support services director to ensure family members are getting support services and accurate information from a credible source.   The program would work closely with an organization that specializes in disaster assistance, such as the American Red Cross, along with the mine operators.

"Second, this bill requires all mine operators to develop a disaster family assistance plan that must be approved by MSHA, requiring mine operators to strategically plan for family care before an incident happens.

"Finally, this bill establishes a task force to provide MSHA with additional recommendations on how to support families during mining disasters.  It includes vital partners in the conversation such as the Bureau of Land Management, the American Red Cross, mine operators, including operators of smaller mines, union representatives, and, most importantly, families who have lost loved ones in past mining tragedies.

"It is critically important that family members who have experienced similar tragedies in the past have a voice in deciding how families in the future are cared for after an incident, and this bill accomplishes that."