If U.S. labor officials have their way, 16- and 17-year old teenagers will soon be allowed to operate powered patient lifts in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics, and other facilities.
The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed rolling back youth-employment provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandating that patient power lifts be operated by employees ages 18 and older.
The proposed rule, published in the Sept. 27 Federal Register, would change the FLSA’s Hazardous Occupations Orders under to exempt powered patient lifts, effectively allowing all employees to operate the devices regardless of age.
Powered patient lifts are devices that can raise, move, and lower incapacitated patients using a harness and straps. According to the DOL’s proposed rule, teenagers seeking to learn the skill would need at least 75 hours of training and 16 hours of supervision under a registered nurse or other employee who has at least two years of experience operating the devices.
The DOL says that patient lifts “substantially differ in form and function from the other equipment” governed by the Hazardous Occupations Orders, which prohibit minors from operating forklifts, backhoes, cranes, and other heavy industrial equipment.
Labor officials also say that patient lifts “are safer for workers than the alternative method of manually lifting patients.”
Not all lawmakers support the proposed rule. According to Safety and Health Magazine, Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and four other lawmakers issued a joint response to the proposed rule, pointing out that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has in the past warned that “many 16- and 17-year-old employees cannot safely operate power-driven patient lifts.”
“It appears the Department of Labor submitted this proposal without any input from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In fact, the proposal directly ignores previous expert warnings about the danger of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to use this equipment by themselves,” the lawmakers wrote.
“There are many ways to expand job opportunities for young people without risking their safety and the safety of patients in hospitals and nursing homes across the country. The administration should follow the scientific evidence and withdraw this proposal.”