Hoping to reduce work-related fatigue among emergency medical services professionals, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the National Association of State EMS Officials partnered to establish a series of guidelines.
Thousands of pieces of literature regarding EMS workplace fatigue were reviewed by a panel of experts. Included were recent research which illustrated that more than half of EMS workers are experiencing significant mental and physical fatigue at work, poor sleep quality, and difficulty recovering between stressful shifts. Half of them also admit to getting less than six hours of sleep a day, the medically-accepted required minimum necessary in order to function effectively in high-stress jobs.
The panel’s conclusions revealed five recommendations to mitigate fatigue risks:
- Use surveys to measure sleep patterns and fatigue levels.
- Limit work shifts to no more than 24 hours.
- Make caffeine accessible.
- Incorporate on-duty “power” naps.
- Provide programs for education and training of fatigue risk management.
It seems that EMS workers can be added to train engineers and long-haul truckers who deal with the same problem of work-related exhaustion. Tired workers pose a threat to those on the roads and rails. The above research suggests EMS patients’ lives are in additional danger at hands of often exhausted emergency healthcare workers. According to the lead author of the study, the outcomes of fatigue can be devastating for EMS personnel and their patients because “administrators are not equipped to address fatigue in the workplace, in part because they have no guidance on how to manage it.”
This research might also better explain why other industries also struggle to manage their tired workers in hopes that their fatigue doesn’t hurt or kill us.
Worker Exhaustion Turns Roads and Rails into Avenues of Death and Destruction
A report released in late December 2016 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concludes that most drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash than those who get at least seven hours of sleep. And the less sleep the person behind the wheel gets, the higher the crash rate, according to the findings.
Shift work sleep disorder is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It affects people who work “floating” shifts or third shifts (overnight). Sleep deficiencies caused by these unusual work hours negatively affect productivity and safety. Some symptoms include:
- Excessive sleepiness during periods where they would normally be productive and alert
- Insomnia, or trouble falling asleep
- Not feeling rested or refreshed after waking
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of energy
- Irritability or depression
- Difficulty with their personal relationships.
Can Employers Be Held Liable When their Sleep-Deprived Zombie Workers Hurt and Kill?
That’s a very good question. And the answers seem to be shifting. Most courts have held that an employer is not liable for injuries sustained in a sleep-related motor vehicle crash that occurred while an employee drove to or from work. Lately, however, a few courts across the U.S. are beginning to hold employers liable based on “special hazard” exceptions. These follow the theory that employers who schedule an employee to work unusually long shifts expose their employees to foreseeable risks of fatigue-related motor vehicle crashes.
So with the plethora of studies revealing solutions to the problem of tired workers, it seems prudent for employers to create opportunities for their workers to rest more. The apparent benefit is fewer accidents at work. But employers now think they might end up in court when an exhausted worker causes a crash and then points the finger at their employer/taskmaster.
If you have been injured, or a family member has suffered a wrongful death in an accident, contact the Billy Johnson Injury Law Firm to discuss your options by calling 606-433-0682, or fill out our online contact form to arrange a free case evaluation.