Overworked healthcare staff leads to safety risks, toxic work environment: CFNU report – Winnipeg

Long hours and staffing issues are causing risk to health-care staff and their patients, according to a report from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), released Friday.

The “Safe Hours Save Lives” report compiles research about the effects of overwork in the healthcare sector. The report also features interviews with stakeholders in healthcare, including union leaders, researchers, and nurses in a variety of positions.

“We’ve been hearing horror stories of nurses working around the clock,” said CFNU National President Linda Silas. “We have important jobs to do, and right now, nurses are working in dangerous situations.”

That danger, she says, comes from working long hours with little to no break, increasing the likelihood of making mistakes. The risk also increased during night shifts. Silas says it’s a recipe for disaster.

“After you’ve worked 16, 18, 20, 24 hours, I really don’t want you to be pushing very serious drugs into my system,” she said.

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The report analyzes workplace safety research in multiple fields including healthcare. It found the risk of an incident increased after 8 hours of work. After 16 hours, the risk was almost three times as high.


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Darlene Jackson with the Manitoba Nurses Union says that means staff are regularly at risk. “16 hour shifts are very common. That’s almost become the new norm,” she told Global News.

Jackson adds nurses in northern and rural areas are especially under pressure, as there are fewer people to fill in when a nurse calls in sick. “We’re also still seeing some 20 and 24 hour shifts,” she said.

Jackson says while some overtime is mandated, many nurses pick up voluntary overtime because they feel like they have to. “There’s a lot of guilt in it because if the night shift is short and you’re working, and you don’t stay, you know your patients…those nurses are going to have even larger patient loads, which means the patients are going to get less care,” she said.

There are no federal regulations governing the work hours of health-care workers. Each provincial authority is responsible for implementing its own policy. Silas says it’s time for federal regulation, like in the aviation, nuclear, and rail sectors. Both Silas and Jackson acknowledge there is an element of gender bias, as those industries are typically male dominated, while nursing jobs are traditionally held by women.

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“We just put more and more nurses in the rest of the health care team, and it’s impacting long term disability, sick time and it’s impacting patient care,” she said. “And we have to remember that’s why we exist is to give safe and quality patient care. And now with too many hours we can’t guarantee that.”

And the risk to staff extends beyond the walls of the hospital.

“You’re working with all these meds and yet you can’t even drive yourself home,” reads one account from the report. “Some of us turn up the radio and roll down the windows, but I still always tell myself it’s the grace of God sometimes because you’re physically so compromised.”

The report outlines three major recommendations: legislating working hours, having employers prioritize improving working conditions, and amending scheduling to reduce overtime.

“The next step is meeting with provincial and territorial politicians and the decision makers in health care, and bringing this evidence at the policy level and into the collective agreement,’ Silas said. “It is time we talk more about safety, and that includes hours of work.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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