Work-induced Fatigue Among Rural Ambulance Workers: Is Government Putting Cost Ahead of Safety?
(February 9, 2021, St. John’s, NL) Coroner’s reports and the courts have concluded in several instances in Canada that work-induced fatigue has led to traffic accidents that have killed ambulance workers and their patients. Now a new report commissioned by Teamsters Local Union No. 855 has concluded that Paramedics and Emergency Medical Responders in this province are at increased risk due to work-induced fatigue from compulsory 24-hour shifts.
Hubert Dawe, Business Agent – Health Care Division, for Local 855, in announcing the release of the final report, “Assessment Of Sleep-Related Fatigue in Paramedics,” said today that the results speak for themselves. The report, which looks at Paramedics and Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs) in several rural areas across the province, was conducted by Clinton Marquardt, one of Canada’s top sleep and fatigue specialists, said Dawe.
The report compared the risk level of fatigued rural ambulance personnel with performance under the influence of alcohol. As a result of work-induced fatigue among rural ambulance workers in this province, “performance of the participants dropped to levels normally observed in people with BAC’s [blood alcohol level] of 0.05%,” concluded, Marquardt.
The study was designed using biometric measurements and personal journaling during active shifts. Researchers used these objective data and subjective observations to assess the level of work-induced fatigue experienced by a sample of 19 Paramedics and EMRs. This was followed by a similar, secondary study of eight individuals working in high-activity regions. The results were examined to, “determine whether there is a risk of negative outcomes in safety, productivity and health.”
The main conclusion was that fatigue is likely degrading performance of some of the ambulance personnel, said Dawe. “Mr. Marquardt is the only person in his field qualified by the Superior Court of Canada to serve as an expert witness. And he is telling us that, for at least 22.3 minutes of every active period, if the ambulance personnel were driving while suffering from work-induced fatigue, they ran up to nine times more risk than an unimpaired driver of having a motor vehicle accident.”
Dawe said that compelling workers dedicated to the preservation of life to risk the lives of their patients and themselves is unacceptable. “Government needs to act now to put the safety of rural ambulance personnel and their patients ahead of costing for rural ambulance service,” he said. “It is only a matter of time before this province joins the others with a fatality on the highway that could have been prevented.”
Dawe said that Teamsters Local Union No. 855 has, for several years, sought the support of government to improve working conditions for EMR workers in Newfoundland and Labrador. But, under contracts negotiated between employers and government—without worker input—paramedics are compelled to work 24-hour shifts. A situation which Teamsters Local Union No. 855 has identified as the cause of the work-induced fatigue experienced by their members, exposing them and their patients to significantly increased risk.
The results from both the initial and secondary study support this, said Dawe.
In the final report Marquardt concludes that the results, “support the need to focus strategies on the situations with higher risk. Specifically, as risk appears to increase with the number of active periods worked, it would be prudent to focus fatigue risk-management strategies on reducing the number of active periods worked. One logical strategy to reduce the number of active periods would be to reduce the duty coverage period from 24 to 12 hours.”