Studies have shown that excessive overtime is directly linked to incidents of medical errors. In the U.S., medical error is the eighth leading cause of death – more than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS.
In October’s Synergist, the magazine of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, Thomas Fuller notes that various state and international jurisdictions have already put in place limits in order to bring down medical error.
He notes 16 U.S. States have implemented regulations to limit overtime in nursing. In Japan the government recommends less than 45 hours of overtime per month and requires “administrative guidance” when overtime exceeds 100 hours.
The European Union regulates overtime, limiting work hours to 48 hours per week averaged over a 17-week period. They also require a minimum daily rest period of 11 hours and a minimum rest period of 24 or 48 consecutive hours averaged over 14 days.
In addition to the risk to others, Fuller notes the personal toll on the worker’s themselves, ranging from reduced respiratory capacity and cardiovascular stress to increased weight in men and elevated drinking and depression in women.
Workers themselves can reduce the impact of overtime by taking their breaks and addressing assignments so less challenging work is scheduled for the end of the shift.
In Ontario Employment Standards limits mandatory work time to 48 hours a week, however, employers and employees can agree to up to 60 hours. Exceptions can also be made by applying to the Ministry of Labour.