OSHA to Examine Physician Work Hours

Janice Simmons, September 8, 2010

In response to a petition filed last week by Public Citizen and others, OSHA said it will examine the need for regulations that would limit the work hours of resident physicians, according Labor Department Assistant Secretary, David Michaels.

"We are very concerned about medical residents working extremely long hours, and we know of evidence linking sleep deprivation with an increased risk of needle sticks, puncture wounds, lacerations, medical errors and motor vehicle accidents," Michaels said.

He also said that 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 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," he said. "Hospitals and medical training programs are not exempt from ensuring that their employees' health and safety are protected."

Janice Simmons Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.
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