As you no doubt know – and work very hard to prevent – your facility can be  at great risk if your staff members make a mistake that results in injury or illness to your patients.  This is especially true if the mistake was due to fatigue. Naturally, you don’t want any mistake to occur – not just because you could be financially liable – but because your patients’/residents’  well-being is important to you and your care partners.

Healthcare worker fatigue is a becoming a prominent issue.  Health care workers can work long hours and in shifts, which can greatly disturb sleep patterns. This can put your workers (and patients) at risk because sleep deprivation reduces mental function and physical stamina.

Observing your staff can help you identify potential risks due to employees being fatigued. Common signs that a staff member may be fatigued include:

  1. A lessening in the ability to problem solve
  2. A reduction in motivation
  3. Unable to stay focused
  4. Lapses in memory
  5. Seems confused
  6. Is more irritable
  7. Not able to communicate as well
  8. Reaction time is diminished
  9. Diminished empathy
  10. Slower ability to process information

To help reduce your facility’s liability, be proactive in developing strategies to decrease employee fatigue. Ask your staff members for their input on how to reduce fatigue. Be prepared for some great insights into the times and reasons your staff has become overly tired and the ideas they have to prevent/combat it. Several strategies that may reduce fatigue are:

  • Create a management plan that includes proven strategies to fight fatigue such as physical activity (simple stretching can work wonders), drinking coffee and even taking short naps.
  • Instruct your staff members in proven good-sleep techniques, such as the importance of getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night, performing ready-to-sleep rituals such as yoga or reading, etc.
  • Get team members involved by putting together a system in which colleagues check on each other, performing independent second checks for critical tasks and/or for complex patients.
  • See if your facility can provide sleep breaks for long shifts. (Make sure the sleep breaks actually allow staff members to have a quality nap.) You’ll need to provide a cool, quiet, comfortable and dark room for your employees. Provide ear plugs and eye masks, if needed.
  • If you do start offering sleep breaks, you’ll need to create a system that ensures adequate coverage for sleeping employees, how you handle pager and phone response/coverage, etc.
  • Consider changing your facility’s shift rotation. Be sure to include your team members in the design of their schedules.
  • Allow plenty of rest between shifts.
  • Consider reducing shift length.
  • Conduct a workload analysis.
  • Analyze any incidents and even near incidents to determine if it was caused (partially or fully) by fatigue.

Has your facility changed the way it looks at long shifts? Have you put together a sleeping area for your staff members? What are you doing to mitigate staff fatigue?

Have you bookmarked our Snelling Medical Blog yet? Be sure to do so, because next week we’re going to discuss how to handle the first 24 hours after a crisis or incident at your facility. Contact us today if you have any questions, ideas, or if you need any short-term/long-term solutions for your healthcare staffing needs.

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.