Hospitals and healthcare facilities that require nurses to work overtime could face fines if a pair of bills seeking to ban mandatory overtime for nurses passes the United States House and Senate.
The Safe Nursing and Patient Care Act of 2005, introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, with a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, seeks to impose a fine on health care facilities whenever they require a nurse to work overtime. Mandatory overtime would still be permitted during periods of emergency as declared by federal, state or local governments. Additionally, nurses would be able to volunteer for overtime.
“Instead of hiring more nurses, understaffed hospitals typically . . . order nurses to work back-to-back eight-hour shifts or four extra hours on top of a 12-hour shift, even though it is dangerous for patients and nurses,” Kennedy said.
The goal of both bills is to improve patient safety, said the sponsors, by giving nurses a more workable and ergonomic work schedule, thereby reducing the potential risk of errors. A pair of studies published last summer indicated that staffing shortages and the number of hours worked by nurses could be leading to an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and that working longer shifts was also leading to higher error rates.
A recent report by Circadian concurs. Focusing on the effects of shiftwork on nurses, the Circadian report found that nearly 20 percent of nurses cited fatigue as one of the top three job-related health and safety risks in their profession. The report also noted that fatigue and short staffing can affect the quality of patient care.
Sources: Newhouse News Service; The New York Teacher; Circadian; Ergonomics TodayTM