Emergency services employees (EMS) who work extended shifts are 60 percent more likely to suffer injury and illness than those who work 12 hours or less, a new observational study shows.
And the longer the extended shift, the greater the risk, the researchers found.
Working in emergency services requires that people be physically strong and able to move patients yet remain clear-headed while providing medical care in stressful and sometimes chaotic situations.
Despite such demanding job requirements, these clinicians often have to work up to 24 hours a shift. And that could increase their risk for injuries or take a toll on the quality of care they provide to patients, the researchers said.
To investigate how long hours could affect EMS workers, the researchers analyzed 1 million shift schedules completed by 4,000 employees over the course of three years. They also examined 950 occupational health records for 14 large U.S. emergency medical services agencies.
The risk of sustaining an injury or developing an illness increased as the length of EMS workers’ shifts grew, the study published online Sept. 14 in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine revealed.
Shifts longer than 12 hours were linked to a 50 percent greater risk for injury than shorter shifts, even after the researchers considered other factors like the time of day and how often the EMS crew worked together. Meanwhile, shifts lasting up to 24 hours had more than double the risk of injury or illness of shifts lasting eight hours or less.
These findings don’t prove long shifts cause illness or injuries, but the researchers concluded they do show a consistent trend.
“The findings are early observational evidence of a preventable exposure associated with injury and illness and should be tested further in a randomized design,” the study authors wrote.
The American College of Emergency Physicians provides more on emergency medical shift work.