Long Hours, More Mistakes? OSHA Scrutinizes Marathon Medical Shifts

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Thursday that it is considering a petition to restrict the long hours worked by medical residents.

“We are very concerned about medical residents working extremely long hours, and we know of evidence linking sleep deprivation with an increased risk of needle sticks, puncture wounds, lacerations, medical errors and motor vehicle accidents,” said David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

The petition comes courtesy of the advocacy group Public Citizen, which says that residents’ frequent 30-hour shifts can put patients in danger. Not only that, but the overworked doctors also are more likely to suffer car accidents, bouts of depression, even pregnancy complications. Other groups joined in filing the petition, including the American Medical Student Association.

According to Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who serves as the director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group:

The dangerously excessive number of hours resident physicians are currently allowed to work is a similarly toxic exposure that OSHA has the authority to regulate and reduce in order to protect these physicians from harm.

Limiting doctors’ hours would appear to be an unusual role for OSHA, but the federal government already has a say about the length of shifts in transportation industries, with the justification that fatigue could cause fatalities.

Other countries that restrict physicians’ hours include the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Denmark.

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3 comments to “Long Hours, More Mistakes? OSHA Scrutinizes Marathon Medical Shifts”

  1. William Michael Beaver

    this isnt a medical comment,i work @ Club Car in Augusta,Ga in the loading dpt.we began work 7 in the morning & they worked us til 10 that night,15 hrs that night & had to be back to work @ 7 in the morning,needless to say,didnt get much sleep,the following day they worked us for 16hrs. Is this right for them to do that. cant really focus much with that little bit of sleep

  2. Cyndi Davis

    This issue must be addressed; the risks associated with worker fatigue are very real REGARDLESS of industry. Check out our blog post on this at ERGOLAB; Liberty Mutual study details the risks of injury and accident from extended shifts and consecutive shifts. The risk is compounded in the healthcare profession, as mistakes on-the-job impact a PATIENT. http://bit.ly/aMRkI0

  3. Sharon McEachern

    One of the problems with the long working hours for resident doctors is the same one they had while still in medical school — no personal life, except medicine, including no sex. A recent survey of thousands of doctors found they do not feel comfortable talking about sex with their patients. And, medical students say that after their medical school education, they feel that they will be unable to discuss sex issues effectively with patients. The subject of sex is not covered in their educations — instead, med schools teach sex merely in relation to pregnancies and STDs. What if a patient needs factual info on correct size of condoms to be safe? The med students say they want sex education classes, PLEASE:

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2010/08/we-want-more-sex-say-med-students-and-more-sex-eduction-.html

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