May 18th, 2015 11:27 am ET - Claire Caruso, PhD, RN, FAAN
“The problem for me became very severe and my head nurse actually called me into her office to discuss it… it had gotten to the point where I was so chronically sleep-deprived that I was falling asleep while I was trying to report off to the on-coming shift. So, I’m sitting there talking about very complicated medical issues, and in the middle of a sentence, I would nod-off. And as you can imagine, the person I’m speaking to would be very upset that I’m so distracted and unfocused…”
- Quote from a night shift nurse
People get sick and injured at all hours of the day. These injuries and illnesses are not restricted to a typical 9-5 work shift. In the U.S., healthcare services are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. To meet this demand, nurses work in shifts–often 8-12 hours at a time–which may require them to work at night during traditional sleeping hours. Research has shown that shift work and long work hours are associated with: declines in functioning of the brain (thinking, remembering, etc.); reduced job performance, accidents, and errors; negative impact on health behaviors (obesity, smoking, etc.); increased short-term and long-term health risks; and negative impacts to patients, families, employers, and the community.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a free online course to train nurses and their managers on the risks of shift work and long work hours, and strategies to reduce these risks. The training course was developed in collaboration with healthcare stakeholders, including nursing organizations and academic groups and will provide continuing education certificates for registered nurses who complete the course. A certificate of completion is available for persons who are not registered nurses.
The NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours is designed to increase knowledge and promote better personal behaviors and workplace systems to reduce the risks linked to working shift work, long work hours, and exposure to related issues from insufficient sleep. Content is derived from scientific literature on shift work, long work hours, sleep, and circadian rhythms.
The training will inform nurses and their managers about the following:
- How shift work and long hours are linked to a wide range of health and safety risks by reducing time for sleep, disturbing circadian rhythms, and disrupting family and non-work responsibilities
- What vital functions occur during sleep and the relevant physiologic processes that determine the timing of sleep and the development of fatigue
- Good sleep practices and other coping strategies nurses working shift work and long work hours can adopt in their personal lives to reduce risks
- Work organization strategies for employers to reduce risks associated with shift work and long work hours
The NIOSH training is a multi-media course that incorporates lesson text, lesson quizzes, and video testimonials from several nurses. The course is divided into two parts to make it easier for nurses to schedule time and receive contact hours for at least part of the training: Part 1) Health and safety risks to shift work and long work hours and why these occur; Part 2) Strategies to reduce risks from shift work and long work hours. Part 1 takes about 1.5 hours to complete and Part 2 takes about 1.7 hours. It can be taken at any time that is convenient and over a series of 15 or 20 minute time periods if desired.
The course is available for desktop and mobile devices on the NIOSH website. For more information about NIOSH’s research and recommendations on healthcare workers, visit thehealthcare topic page.
Training and raising awareness of the issues is a step towards prevention. Please share with us what you or your workplace have done to combat safety and health issues associated with shiftwork and long hours.
NIOSH also offers an online Workplace Violence Prevention Training for Nurses. In the comment section below please let us know what other online training would be beneficial to the healthcare industry.
Claire Caruso, PhD, RN,FAAN
Dr. Caruso is a research health scientist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.