WASHINGTON - Following a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Herb Kohl, the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) announced today that it will reverse a decision that had severely limited opportunities for young workers in nursing homes.

DoL has issued a field assistance bulletin modifying a year-old ban on 16- and 17-year-old workers operating patient lifts in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. DoL's decision is welcome news for nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the Midwestern states and across the country, and it will also provide a boost to vocational high school training programs seeking to help student fill jobs in the rapidly expanding health care field. 

On July 19, 2010, the DoL's Wage and Hour Division issued a restriction on the use of hoists and hoisting apparatuses known as Hazard Order #7. Under the order, minors under the age of 18 were banned from operating or assisting in the operation of most power-driven hoists, including those designed to lift and move patients.

"We are pleased that the Department of Labor has recognized that there's a big difference between large construction hoists and the safe and simple patient lifts found in nursing homes," Kohl said. "We know that manually lifting immobile, fragile people is a recipe for disaster - both for workers and residents. The Department is to be commended for modifying its hazard order with a new directive that strikes a balance between allowing younger workers to safely use patient lifts with appropriate supervision by a trained adult."

Joined by Senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Kohl immediately requested a thorough review of the ban and urged the agency to reverse its decision.

At the time, the agency classified the small, safe patient lifts that are used in health care facilities with large hoists used to move heavy materials in the construction industry. The result was disrupted care in many Midwestern states that sponsor youth training programs designed to offer high school students with job opportunities in long-term care.

Kohl said that these programs are critical to getting young workers to consider jobs in long-term care, which is on course to grow rapidly during the nation's age wave. Employment needs in this sector are projected to skyrocket: According to DoL, in 2008 there were nearly 600,000 nursing home aides across the country. By 2018, that number will jump by more than 37 percent, to 752,000. In the community-based care long-term care sector, the number of personal and home health aides will grow even more -- from 817,000 in 2008 to nearly 1.2 million in 2018.

Kohl said DoL's commonsense change will not only help to soften a looming workforce shortage, but will also allow employers in the long-term care sector to more easily create millions of additional job opportunities where they are most needed.  Nationally, the unemployment rate among Americans aged 16 to 19 has significantly exceeded the unemployment rate among older adults.

"We need to redouble our efforts to create more good jobs for Wisconsin and in states across the country in long-term care," Kohl said. "As chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, I look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Labor to improve the working conditions and opportunities for individuals of all ages and diverse backgrounds to join and pursue careers in this field."

Under the modified order, power-driven patient lifts of less than one ton can be used by 16- and 17-year olds under the following circumstances:

-The minor has completed the required training for certified nurse aides under federal law of 75 hours;

-The minor is part of a team of at least two members, one of which must be an adult 18 or older;

-The minor assists in the operation but cannot direct it;

-The minor has been provided with a copy of the order explaining these conditions prior to operating a lift.

The order can be found at: http://www.dol.gov/whd/FieldBulletins/index.htm