DOL Putting Teen Workers In Danger

September 26, 2018

Today, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposal for public comment to roll back child labor protections in nursing homes. This proposed rule repeals the current DOL policy that 16 and 17 year-olds can operate power-driven patient lifting devices only when working in a team where the partner is an experienced caregiver 18 years or older. The proposal removes the requirement that young workers be under any type of supervision to operate the lift.

This proposal flies in the face of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report that found that children of this age cannot safety operate patient lifts alone. Released in 2011, the report found many reasons why it is unsafe for the child and the patient receiving care, including the physical requirements being too high for the average 16-17-year-old, low experience with workplace hazards, and that specific training alone is not sufficient to protect young workers from patient-lifting related injuries.

There has been no study since finding any evidence to the contrary.

Ariel Laracuente, a teenage workplace safety trainer from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) Teens Lead @ Work program finds the proposal troubling.

“A kid at the age of 16 or 17 shouldn't be working with lifts because that puts more than teens at risk, it will also put the patient at risk. It's hard imagining the level of stress it puts on a teen to have to be responsible using a machine that complex no matter how much training you receive."

Laracuente’s fellow teenage co-worker Adam Gahn, echoes his concerns.
"I would be very stressed about operating a machine like that. What if I end up hurting the patient? Then I have to live with that.”
The proposal is just the latest regulation roll back in recent months affecting underground mine safety inspections, offshore oil rigs and line speeds in meat processing plants, among others.

"Operating a lift puts teens in a very stressful situation,” says Jenny Fernandez, MassCOSH’s Youth Program Director. “Even with training, having to be responsible for the safety of another person would make anyone stressed. It takes a lot of experience to feel comfortable operating machinery, especially machinery that involves the safety of a patient. Teens already deal with high levels of stress and adding this to their job description will only add to that stress, which has the ability to lead to mistakes."

MassCOSH urges the DOL to reconsider this risky proposed regulation and to pull it from circulation.