Study: Medics on long shifts more injury, illness prone

Those who work 16- to 24-hour shifts have a 60 percent greater chance of injury and illness than those who work 8-hour shifts

BOSTON — EMTs and paramedics who work long shifts are 60 percent more likely to suffer injury and illness than those who work eight- to 12-hour shifts, a new study has found.

The findings showed that the risk on an occupational injury or illness increased as shifts lengthened.

The evidence also suggests that not only responders are more likely to suffer injuries when they work extended shifts, but they put patient safety at risk.

To move, treat and transport patients, medics need a clear mental focus and alertness, which is compromised when they work 16- to 24-hour shifts.

Researchers looked at three years of shift schedules, totaling almost 1 million shifts, involving more than 4,000 employees, 950 occupational health records for 14 large EMS agencies in the U.S.

Shifts longer than 12 hours were associated with a 50 percent heightened risk of sustaining an injury compared with shifts of less than 12 hours. This is after taking into account other relevant factors, such as employer type, night or day shift, employment status, and how often the EMS crew had previously worked together.

The risk associated with shifts lasting 16 to 24 hours was more than double that of shifts up to eight hours.

The researchers caution that this is an observational study, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

"Despite this, these data show a consistent message," they write. "The findings are early observational evidence of a preventable exposure associated with injury and illness and should be tested further in a randomized design."

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