The bill formally called Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act (H.R.4266) imposes an obligation on the Department of Labor to design and establish a specific standard for safe patient handling. This obligation implies the introduction of engineering and safety controls.

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The bill is sponsored by Representative John Conyers, Jr., a Democrat. It is also supported by 19 co-sponsors. The list of co-sponsors is the following: Rep. Hastings, Alcee L.; Rep. Bonamici, Suzanne; Rep. McCollum, Betty; Rep. Moore, Gwen; Rep. Norcross, Donald; Rep. Bordallo, Madeleine Z.; Rep. Serrano, Jose E.; Rep. Scott, Robert C. “Bobby”; Rep. Wilson, Frederica S.; Rep. Clay, Wm. Lacy; Rep. Boyle, Brendan F.; Rep. Davis, Danny K.; Rep. Beatty, Joyce; Rep. Graham, Gwen; Rep. Bass, Karen; Rep. Schakowsky, Janice D.; Rep. Clarke, Yvette D.; Rep. Lee, Barbara; and Rep. Norton, Eleanor Holmes. All these representatives are members of the Democratic Party. (“H.R.4266 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2015”)

The regulatory objective of imposing a standard on safe patient handling is focused on reducing injuries both in patients and health care workers. Besides the safe patient handling as such, the bill also contains rules on mobility and injury prevention. The specific obligations on the part of health care employers include the development of a safe handling, mobility, and injury prevention programs; on-the-job training for workers; and posting an explanatory notice for health care workers with regard to the new standard and their relevant rights in this scope. Simultaneously, the Department of Labor bears the obligation to conduct unscheduled inspections that would aim to ensure the standard compliance. (“H.R.4266 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2015”)

The bill has a firm support of the American Nurses Association (ANA). ANA notes that injuries suffered by nurses in the course of moving, lifting or manually handling patients’ care otherwise can be life-changing for health care workers. The Association notes that these risks can even put an end to the nurse’s career. The position of ANA stems from their conviction that manual patient handling must be reduced to a minimum. Hence, the adoption of the relevant standard would contribute to the establishment of a safe environment both for patients and nurses. (“ANA – Safe Patient Handling and Mobility”, 2016)

It was worth noting that there have been attempts to adopt the patient-handling standard in the past. Since 2001, there has been a process of legislative drafting and promotion of the standard with the involvement of major stakeholders: labor unions, back-injured nurses, and legislators. Despite the shortcomings on the federal level, the supporters achieved implementation on the state level in, at least, 20 states, including such big ones as Texas, Florida, New York, and California. The main argument put forward in support of the nationwide standard is motivation by the possibility to improve safety for nurses and patients. In particular, the regulatory gap on the use of mechanical equipment leads to sprains, strains, back injuries in health care workers. Thus, the nurse support for the bill is overwhelming. (Mason, Leavitt, & Chaffee, 2015)

The risk of musculoskeletal injuries during patient handling depends on the distance of moving, patient’s behavior, confined workspace, patient’s weight. The empiric research shows that the use of minimal lift equipment is still limited, and many nurses disregard its advantages altogether. Consequently, there is a dire need for continuous patient handling and movement programs that would also be guaranteed by monitoring and oversight tools in facilities (e.g. inspections) on the federal level. (Daily, 2014)

Criticism is limited to the fear of overregulating patient handling and imposing additional regulatory requirements on health care employers. (Mason, Leavitt, & Chaffee, 2015) Besides the regulatory argument, there is hardly any substantiated reason not to support the standard as it there is overwhelming evidence that proves its positive role in improving patient and nurse safety.