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Study Shows Longer EMS Hours Can Lead To More On-The-Job Injuries

Research by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has shown Emergency Medical Service personnel who work 12- to 24-hour shifts are more than twice as likely to be injured on the job than those who work 8-hour shifts.

“We detected a higher risk of injury when the worker worked longer,” said lead author and research fellow Matthew Weaver, who found the risk increased for each additional hour worked.

Weaver and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh as well as the Carolinas Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine examined nearly one million work shifts for 4,282 EMS workers. They researched the last three years of occupational safety and illness records and determined EMS workers are at a higher risk of injury than police or firefighters.

“We know that EMS providers work in a fairly unique set of circumstances,” Weaver said. “They have to make timely decisions, provide medical care and get a sick patient from wherever they are and safely deliver them to the hospital for continued care.”

These unpredictable circumstances can result in long periods of work without a break or rest. Injuries that could occur on the job due to fatigue include what Weaver calls “sprains and strains.”

“They most often occur in the neck or the back and most frequently occur when lifting or moving patients,” he said.

Weaver said the best way to avoid injury is by making sure each EMS worker understands their limitations.

“They know their own bodies, and they know when they are safe and when they need to take a rest,” he said.

The study is preliminary, Weaver said, and should be evaluated cautiously by managers considering changes to their staffing policy to better accommodate EMS workers.

“This data has important limitations, and depending on how you treat shift length, you can draw different conclusions,” Weaver said.

The complete findings were published in the Occupational & Environmental Medicine online journal.