Nurse wearing mask

A new study out of Great Britain is reinforcing the accepted notion that healthcare employees who consistently work long shifts are at higher risk of sickness and workplace absence. Other studies have formed the same conclusion about other industries; but this one involving of healthcare workers – specifically Registered Nurses (RNs) and Healthcare Assistants (HCAs) – adds to the accepted notion that all who are overworked need to recognize and accept the health risks.

The recent study, performed by researchers at the University of Southampton and published in the Journal of Nursing Management, finds that these higher sickness/absence rates from long shifts or outside the realm of traditional 9-5 working hours also lead to additional costs due to loss of productivity for hospitals that employ them. The study further calls all workers to “throttle back” their long shift routines if possible. Read between the lines: in healthcare-speak, “loss of productivity” usually translates into lower levels of patient care, which could produce a variety of legal entanglements for the healthcare operation.

Worker productivity is hobbled by a variety of controllable factors, such as too many hours on the job, the impact of working large numbers of second and third shifts, not enough sleep and higher workplace stress levels. And even though more overtime or shift differentials are welcome on payday, might they come with a higher price when it comes to our health?

Several U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) studies on various job types over the years have found the correlation between when (and how long) people work is directly tied to not only their job performance, but their lives away from work. Workers involved in these surveys include:

  • Healthcare providers
  • Transportation workers
  • First responders
  • Firefighters
  • Police officers
  • Military personnel
  • Construction workers
  • Oil field workers
  • Service and hospitality workers.

Job-related fatigue was detected in all of these categories of workers. Some conclusions revealed that:

  • Workplace Accident and injury rates are 18 percent higher during evening shifts and 30 percent higher during night shifts when compared to day shifts.
  • Working 12 hours per day comes with a 37 percent higher risk of injury. In a 2005 study of over 2,500 medical residents, every extended shift scheduled in a month increased by 16.2 percent their monthly risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash during their commute home from work.
  • Sleep problems and risk for injury to full-time employees increases in direct correlation to the number of hours they work each week.
  • Fatigue leads to higher incidences of patient-care errors among healthcare workers, such as increased needle sticks, higher rates of exposure to blood and other body fluids, and higher levels of other job-related injuries.
  • The estimated annual cost of lost productive work time suffered by American companies due to health-related problems associated with worker fatigue is more than $135 billion.

In addition to the weariness, sleepiness, irritability, reduced alertness, impaired decision-making, and lack of motivation, concentration and memory caused by worker fatigue, OSHA also refers to several studies which illustrate detectable links between fatigue and a bevy of chronic health problems such as:

  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Reproductive problems
  • Depression
  • Some cancers (breast and prostate)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Poor eating habits/obesity
  • Worsening of existing chronic diseases (diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease).

We’re not suggesting that you reject all opportunities for overtime pay or second or third shift differentials. Just don’t make it a habit. There’s more to life than just money.

If you have questions about a legal issue, contact Kaplan Lawyers PC today to schedule a free consultation.