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Many EMS workers are dangerously fatigued

More than half of the emergency medical services personnel around the country say they suffer from severe fatigue while at work that impairs them both physically and mentally. Researchers from the National Association of State EMS Officials and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center discovered this while reviewing more than 38,000 studies, surveys and other documents dealing the challenges faced by first responders in North Carolina and across the U.S. The results of the research were presented to a panel of experts and published on Jan. 11 by the medical journal Prehospital Emergency Care.

According to the data reviewed by the researchers, only half of EMS workers sleep for six or more hours each night, and many say that the sleep they do get is of poor quality. They are also expected to work long shifts that allow them little recuperation time. The research team found that few EMS administrators understood the dangers of excessive levels of fatigue in the workplace and had received little training or instruction on the subject.

In addition to instructing EMS workers about ways to manage fatigue and reduce risks, the researchers urge administrators to ensure that no first responders are asked to work shifts of 24 hours or longer. They also recommend that administrators use surveys to monitor and manage fatigue and allow EMS workers to nap while on duty during quiet periods.

Workers' compensation claims are sometimes contested when accidents or injuries have been caused by fatigue. Employers fearing a rash of similar claims or rising insurance premiums may allege that workers were fatigued due to their lifestyles or off-the-job commitments, and these arguments can sometimes be persuasive. Attorneys with experience in this field may use time cards, work schedules and medical histories to establish work-related fatigue during workers' compensation appeals hearings, and they could also question the effectiveness of safety protocols put in place to address the problem.

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