Many nurses work long hours, and seventeen hour shifts can happen, but mental and physical fatigue can lead to medical missteps.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) hopes to reduce these risks by issuing a new set of recommendations that list the dangers of nurse fatigue and illustrate ways employers can reduce it. ANA is spreading their message to nurses and health care facilities across the USA.
It makes sense for nurses to have time limits to the amount of hours they work consecutively in a twenty-four hour period and for the number of hours they work during a week. Truck drivers and airline pilots aren’t allowed to drive or fly when they reach their mandated time limits because they place others at risk. The same should be true of nurses—and the medical profession as a whole.
ANA President Pam Cipriano says she’s optimistic of these new recommendations as they will focus much more attention on the issue.
Of these issues, the following are some of the most pressing:
- 12 hours or fewer work shifts
- 40 hour work week
- Eliminate mandatory overtime
- Keep consecutive night shifts to a minimum for nurses working both days and nights
- Provide sleep rooms or transportation when nurses are too tired to drive
- And employers should give nurses the right to reject work assignments to prevent fatigue
Medical facilities task nurses to get enough sleep, arrive at work well-rested and take breaks, but these new recommendations may force these facilities to share responsibility. Studies link fatigue to errors, declines in short-term memory and an inability to learn. These studies liken the performance of someone awake for at least 17 hours to that of a drunk person.
A study in the journal Health Affairs in 2004, which looked at 393 nurses over 5000 shifts, found that those who worked shifts 12.5 hours or longer were three times more likely than others to make an error in patient care. And nurse tiredness has grown in the last several years. Hospitals had to lay off staff during the economic downtown and had to rely more on the nurses who stayed.
The government does what it can. National labor law mandates breaks after a certain number of hours, but it only do so much. The rest has to come from individual nurses and the medical facilities they work for. Nurses try different things. Some institute “buddy systems” where they check each other’s work. Others start carpools to reduce drive time. Medical facilities create policies to combat work fatigue, and these policies vary from facility to facility to account for the unique issues the workforce encounters. One of the more common practices is to hire flex nurses who bounce from one work setting to another, relieving other nurses of longer shifts.
It’ll take a joint effort to reduce nurse working hours. Nurses will have to monitor their own bodies and rest when their bodies tell them to rest, medical facilities will have to limit their employee’s hours and take note of how many hours their staff works, and the government may have to reduce the number of hours a nurse can work through the national labor law.
A nurse’s work is critical, and we can’t have nurse zombies shuffling the floor. This puts nurses’ lives as well as patients at risk.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosimoes7/