Top Democrats Question DOL’s Decision to Rely on Unscientific, Undisclosed Data to Change Child Labor Laws

WASHINGTON – Today, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, urged Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta to withdraw the Department of Labor’s proposal to roll back child labor protections for minors who work in the health care industry. The Members are concerned the proposal, which relies on unscientific data, will endanger both young workers and patient safety.

The Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing to allow untrained teenagers to operate power-driven patient lifts — despite evidence of the danger to patients and teenage workers.

The Members are particularly concerned that the DOL is ignoring a 2011 analysis by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which found that many 16- and 17-year-old workers do not have the physical strength or appreciation of risk needed to safely operate patient lifts independently.  According to NIOSH, these young workers may, however, be able to safely work as part of a team where the other caregiver is at least 18 years old.

Rather than heeding expert warnings, DOL’s proposed rule relies on an unscientific survey, conducted via Survey Monkey. Despite congressional request, DOL has failed to make this survey public.

“While we support increased training and employment opportunities, such efforts cannot come at the expense of the safety of minors at work,” the Members said. “[W]e are deeply concerned that the Department is relying on questionable data on the lack of training opportunities to justify a regulatory change that conflicts with the Secretary’s statutory duty to protect minors at work.”     

The Members are asking DOL to instead codify an evidence-based 2011 policy that would allow trained 16-and 17-year-olds to assist workers 18 years of age or older operating this equipment. As the Members point out, DOL has already acknowledged that its 2011 policy is consistent with its goal of “balancing employment opportunities for young people with the necessary protections for their education, health and safety.” 

The full text of the public comment letter is available here.

The full text of the letter calling on DOL to publicly disclose unscientific data used to justify the proposed rollback of child labor standards is available here.

To see nationwide polling in opposition to the roll back of child labor protections in nursing homes, click here.


Press Contact

Stephanie Lalle: 202-226-0853 (Scott)

Mairead Lynn: 202-224-5398 (Murray)