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Senate Subcommittee Hearing Focuses on Safe Patient Handling and Lifting Standards

nurse lifting patient.jpgOn Tuesday, the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety held a hearing to assess the need for safe patient handling and lifting standards. A number of panel members testified that health care workers experience a relatively excessive rate of musculoskeletal injuries due to manual patient handling and called for legislation and regulation to provide a “floor” for minimally acceptable working conditions. Legislation has already been introduced in both congressional chambers to accomplish this end. The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act (S. 1788, H.R. 2381) was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in October 2009, and in the House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) last May.  

Both bills would direct the Secretary of Labor to issue an occupational safety and health standard on safe patient handling and injury prevention and require health facilities to implement safe patient handling plans consistent with the rule. In addition, the bill would require health care employers to – among other things – purchase, use, maintain, and have accessible an adequate number of safe lift mechanical devices within two years after a final regulation is issued.

Not every witness spoke in favor of the legislation during the hearing. Douglas Erickson, a health care engineer with the Facility Guidelines Institute, argued that the timelines laid out in the bill were not feasible. He testified (pdf) that there would be insufficient time to “properly alter the health care built environment to accommodate mechanical lifting equipment. Trying to rush such a monumental modification to our nation’s health care system will create havoc, panic, and a tremendous waste of health care resources.” While agreeing with the need to implement policies and install equipment to facilitate manual patient lifting, Erickson said such a process “needs to be accomplished in a highly systematic fashion or the fix could be worse than the purpose for implementing the program.”

A complete list of witnesses and links to their testimony, in addition to a video of the hearing, can be found here

This entry was written by Ilyse Schuman.

Photo credit: AlexRaths

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