A petition has been filed with OSHA requesting guidelines for limiting the amount of hours workers in certain professions should be required to work. This petition was filed by the Public Citizen, a national advocacy group. Although the group requested these guidelines specifically for physicians and medical personnel, could this ruling have a much larger scope that could extend to workers in other sectors and industries?
In a statement released September 3, 2010 David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of OSHA, suggests that limiting work hours may need to be evaluated to ensure all workers are provided with the right to a safe workplace. “The relationship of long hours, worker fatigue and safety is a concern beyond medical residents, since there is extensive evidence linking fatigue with operator error. In its investigation of the root causes of the BP Texas City oil refinery explosion in 2005, in which 15 workers were killed and approximately 170 injured, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board identified worker fatigue and long work hours as a likely contributing factor to the explosion”.
“It is clear that long work hours can lead to tragic mistakes, endangering workers, patients and the public. All employers must recognize and prevent workplace hazards. That is the law. Hospitals and medical training programs are not exempt from ensuring that their employees’ health and safety are protected”.
“OSHA is working every day to ensure that employers provide not just jobs but good, safe jobs. No worker, whether low-skilled and low-wage, or highly trained, should be injured, or lose his or her life for a paycheck.”
The Petition Filed Requests limiting work hours as described below:
- A limit of 80 hours of work in each and every week, without averaging;
- A limit of 16 consecutive hours worked in one shift for all resident physicians and subspecialty resident physicians;
- At least one 24-hour period of time off work per week and one 48-hour period of time off work per month for a total of five days off work per month, without averaging;
- In-hospital on-call frequency no more than once every three nights, no averaging;
- A minimum of at least 10 hours off work after a day shift, and a minimum of 12 hours off after a night shift;
- A maximum of four consecutive night shifts with a minimum of 48 hours off after a sequence of three or four night shifts.
The Public Citizen petition cites multiple research articles that demonstrate that extended hours can lead to increased risk for motor vehicle accidents, mental health problems, pregnancy and percutaneous injuries. What exactly “long hours” means is something that will indubitably be a contention point for many. Currently OSHA describes a “normal” work shift to be 8 hours or less, for a consecutive 5 days with at least an 8 hour rest between shifts. Any shift that is greater than this amount of time OSHA considers being “extended or unusual”. Currently there is no OSHA standard for a limit to the amount of hours an employee can work.