The long shifts. The missed breaks. The grumpy patients. There are many reasons why burnout and fatigue run rampant in the healthcare industry. While we’ve covered in great detail how these issues impact nurses, they aren’t the only ones taking a hit. Emergency medical services workers are also feeling fatigue in record levels.

Luckily, there are steps your organization can take to help them!

Why are EMS workers burning out?

There are many contributing factors as to why EMS workers are becoming burned out, but new research finds that lack of sleep plays a key role. In addition to EMS workers struggling to recover between shifts, many suffer from severe physical and mental fatigue while on the clock. Equally disturbing, half of the EMS workers who participated in the research report they get less than six hours of sleep each night.

Daniel Patters, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Pitt School of Medicine, thinks scheduling is largely to blame:

“The administrators of EMS organizations are tasked with creating shift schedules and mitigating threats to safety. Unfortunately, these administrators are not equipped to address fatigue in the workplace, in part because they have no guidance on how to manage fatigue in the workplace.”

Why is EMS burnout so dangerous?

When EMS workers suffer from fatigue and burnout, the consequences can be deadly. For starters, many of these employees are operating heavy equipment like ambulances, helicopters, and other types of rescue vehicles. If they doze off or simply lose focus, they could cause significant injuries or fatalities.

When lives are on the line, you need employees functioning at the top of their game. EMS workers must make split-second decisions that can mean the difference between life and death. When they are exhausted, their decision-making abilities are significantly diminished.

Prolonged fatigue and burnout can have a serious impact on their own well-being as well. Not only is this true physically, but mentally. Not allowing one’s body and mind to recover from work-related stress for extended periods can lead to exhaustion, depression, or worse — with suicide rates for first responders being 10 times higher than the national average.

Burnout extends to nursing

First responders in the medical industry aren’t the only ones who are combatting overwhelming levels of fatigue. The same is true for nurses, who also struggle with burnout. Kronos illustrated this point quite well in their survey, “Employee Engagement in Nursing.” According to the findings, nurses are burning out in record numbers, and the worst part is, their managers may not even know.

Here are a few of the report’s key findings:

  • 44% of nurses say their managers don’t know how tired they are, and 43% admit they purposefully hide how exhausted they are from their managers
  • Almost 50% of nurses worry that patient care will suffer because of how burned out they are
  • 37% of nurses worry about making a mistake, and 11% state they have made a mistake at work because they were tired while working
  • 60% of nurses say that excessive workloads are among a top cause for their fatigue, and 42% cite that being unable to take breaks for lunch or dinner contributes significantly.
  • 83% of nurses say that hospitals are losing good nurses because other employers are offering them a better work/life balance.

What can we do about it?

To reduce work-related fatigue among emergency medical services workers, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center partnered with the National Association of State EMS Officials. And, after reviewing over 38,000 pieces of fatigue-related material, they reached a few conclusions about what actions we can take:

  • Use fatigue and sleepiness surveys to measure and keep track of fatigue
  • Limit shifts to less than 24 hours.
  • Allow opportunities for on-duty napping
  • Provide education and training on fatigue risk management

These guidelines are a great start, but to achieve the results many companies are seeking, they would also need to create a Culture of Engagement that extends to all areas of their organization. When this occurs, great things happen.

You save more lives. You make more money. And you might just have some fun along the way

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C.A. Short Company partners with companies to manage, drive and facilitate increased employee engagement to increase financial performance, productivity, quality, and core performance outcomes. Our process and research-based platform enables executives and managers to engage their teams to increase the bottom line, motivate staff, and incentivize positive behavior. To request a complimentary consultation, click here.


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