Basic federal labor regulations would definitely help
September 9th, 2010 | Richard Negri
You are deep in mandatory overtime (which you don’t get OT pay for) and you’re so exhausted that you start making really bad mistakes – dangerous mistakes.
We’ve all been there in one way or another in our working lives, but what if you were a patient and the exhausted worker making the mistakes was your resident physician? Obviously it can be a life or death situation for you. Resident physicians work shifts as long as 30 hours as often as three times a week, which can lead to physician fatigue and medical errors.
“As future physicians, we greatly value the well-being of our patients and know that we can serve them better if we are well ourselves,” says Sonia Lazreg, health justice fellow with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA).
Dr. Charles Preston, a researcher with Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and preventive medicine resident at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health says, “After a busy night on call, I remember a couple of times when I literally fell asleep on my patients standing up during morning rounds. I’d fall asleep while writing my patient progress notes. And driving home, I was careful to turn up the radio or blast the air conditioning so that I would at least have something more to keep me awake.” Can you imagine?
So, why is this dangerous system still in place?
Despite evidence that excessive work hours contribute to depression, car crashes, needle stick injuries and even premature labor for pregnant physicians, there are no Occupational Safety and Health Association (OHSA) rules protecting residents from these risks.
OSHA, which is part of the Department of Labor, is responsible for enforcing safety and health legislation, and it just doesn’t have the doctors-in-training on its radar … yet!
To get the OSHA radar blipping, consumer and health advocacy organizations delivered a petition to the agency today. You can read the petition here, and at the bottom of this entry you can see the full list of those petitioning OSHA.
The federal government already regulates work hours and sets rest-period requirements in a variety of industries, including the highway, aviation, railroad and maritime transportation industries, because fatigue plays a major role in transportation safety. In none of these industries are workers allowed to work hours even remotely as long as these physicians. Resident physicians deserve to have similar protections from excessive work hours that don’t give them adequate rest.
“OSHA must intervene so that physicians in training are no longer at risk for needle stick injuries, car crashes and other hazards that we know stem from chronic sleep deprivation.” says CIR/SEIU Healthcare President Dr. Farbod Raiszadeh.
Please get involved with this important situation. It will help you at the same time as some hardworking people.
For ideas on how to get involved, and to see this original article, visit SEIU.
About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.