The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) says the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has presented no scientific evidence for its proposal to let healthcare workers as young as 16 operate power-driven patient lifts without adult supervision.

The Fair Labor Standards Act rule, which the DOL says will expand employment, training and apprenticeship opportunities for 16-and-17-year-olds in healthcare occupations, will remove a prohibition from the Department's Hazardous Occupations Orders (HO) 7.

Change would be "irresponsible"

“It is possible that the technologies of power-driven patient lifts and healthcare industry work environments have improved since the 2010-2011 changes to HO 7, such that the hazards to 16- and 17-year-olds have been reduced,” said the AIHA in a statement. “However, the Department has provided no evidence that this is the case, and absent a new study by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it would be irresponsible to place young workers at greater risk in an industry with one of the highest rates of injuries based upon a handful of letters and tangential anecdotes.”

The AIHA and other opponents of the change have also cited the potential risk to the patients who would be moved by the young workers. “Protecting workers and patients is the first priority, standing before all others,” the organization said.

The AIHA is urging the DOL to:

  • Issue a new rule that would prohibit 16- and 17-year-olds from manually lifting patients who cannot bear weight;
  • Maintain the current conditions under which 16- and 17-year-olds can operate power-driven patient lifts under Hazardous Occupations Order 7;
  • Ask NIOSH to revisit the work it conducted from 2010 to 2011, and conduct a new assessment to determine the circumstances, if any, that 16- and 17-year-olds can safely operate power-driven patient lifts, either independently or as part of a team with another employee who is at least 18 years of age.

To view the comments the AIHA submitted on the proposed rule, visit Federal and State Letters and Testimonies.