Reducing Work-Related Fatigue Among EMS Workers

Pittsburgh, PA — The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the National Association of State EMS Officials have partnered on a set of guidelines aimed at reducing work-related fatigue among emergency medical services workers.

Workplace fatigue is a common complaint among shift workers. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel work shifts and deliver emergent health care to the acutely ill and injured on the roadside, in patients’ homes, and other environments. They must deliver this care while under significant time pressure and stress. Fatigue is a threat that is often overlooked by EMS leadership and personnel as “just part of the job.“

The number of fatigue-related safety incidences involving EMS personnel and their patients is on the rise. Recent research shows that more than half of emergency medical services (EMS) personnel report severe mental and physical fatigue while at work, poor sleep quality, and poor recovery between shifts.

To help craft the guidelines, researchers reviewed more than 38,000 pieces of literature to present to a panel of experts as evidence of fatigue among EMS workers. Included in the evidence was recent research showing that more than half of EMS workers report severe mental and physical fatigue while at work, subpar sleep quality, and poor recovery between shifts. Half get less than six hours of sleep daily.

The panel used that evidence to make five recommendations for fatigue risk management:

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

The aim of the guidelines is to mitigate the effects of fatigue with recommendations based on a comprehensive evaluation of the best available evidence related to numerous fatigue mitigation strategies, such as using caffeine and napping during shifts.