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Emergency responders struggle with fatigue, workplace accidents

An Emergency Medical Technician is an important part of the emergency team. Each EMT is an emergency medical service caregiver who provides emergency help to patients while they are on the way to the hospital or at home as they recover from minor injuries or temporary issues. So, what's the problem for EMS workers? Unfortunately, long hours can mean that they are fatigued and struggle with their work.

It's not unusual for an EMT to have a 24-hour shift, even though there are laws preventing other industries from working employees over 14 hours at a time. In one noted article, it was found that studies about 24-hour shifts had proven that they were unsafe, but that still hadn't changed in hospital and medical settings.

Emergency medical technicians can be on the clock for up to 24 hours, but with getting ready for work and going home, can easily extend to 28 hours or longer. These fatigued EMTs and paramedics could crash the ambulance or make errors that cost patients their lives or result in injuries; all things that the hospital should want to avoid.

Why do these longer shifts still exist? EMTs have no recommended maximum work or rest guidelines in place, unlike air-ambulance workers, pilots and commercial drivers. Interestingly, there aren't any rules in place to prevent a responder from taking a second shift, which could result in up to 48 hours or more of work without significant breaks.

EMS workers are working in a dangerous field. They're subjected to vehicle crashes, assaults from patients and soft-tissue injuries from being driven without safety harnesses or from working with patients at the scene. In 2012, a survey reported that when close to 550 EMTs were asked, 18 percent had reported injuries after being severely fatigued while 90 percent reported safety-compromising behavior. These points just show why it's so important to get solid rest and for this system to change.

Source: JEMS, "Workplace Fatigue Creates Dangerous Risks for EMS Employees," accessed April. 21, 2015

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