Congress is considering a bill that would force health care industry employers to develop safe patient handling policies.

Introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the legislation would require the U.S. Department of Labor to issue a rule that would mandate the installation of new equipment to lift patients and would grant protections for nurses who refuse to work in unsafe environments.

Keith Wrightson of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which supports the bill, said unlike manufacturing and construction, the healthcare sector has few standards to protect workers from on-the-job injuries.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended that no single worker should lift more than 51 pounds. Nurses must exceed the limit regularly as they transfer patients to stretchers or support them as they walk or shower.

Technology such as ceiling-mounted and floor-based lifts can help reduce MSD injuries among nurses, as can improved lifting policies and the training that will clearly communicate them to staff.

While a number of states have adopted their own safe patient handling regulations industry opponents, citing cost, have prevented national legislation from being enacted.

An ergonomics standard issued in 2000 by OSHA was repealed by Congress the following year.