Emergency medical service workers in South Carolina are a common sight at accident scenes. As one might imagine, they must often endure stressful working conditions. A partnership between a university research hospital and the National Association of State EMS Officials has sounded the alarm about the effects of fatigue on EMS workers. Exhaustion could lead to mistakes while driving ambulances or have a negative impact on patient care.

Researchers distilled the findings from 38,000 pieces of literature to identify the consequences of fatigue for EMS workers. Documented evidence showed that over 50 percent of emergency personnel struggle with severe mental and physical exhaustion during their work shifts. Poor sleep quality exacerbates the fatigue. Half of EMS workers report sleeping less then six hours every day, and many feel that they cannot recover between shifts.

An expert panel that reviewed the findings created guidelines to help emergency service providers manage the risks of fatigue. Employers should collect information from their workers about their levels of sleepiness. Shifts shorter than 24 hours should become the norm, and workers should have places to take naps when possible. Employers could also help workers by providing caffeine and training people to recognize fatigue.

In any type of workplace, employers have a legal responsibility to identify hazards to employees and provide the knowledge and tools to maintain safety. When a person does get hurt on the job, an accident report needs to be completed so that a claim can be filed for workers’ compensation benefits. If an employer discourages a worker from seeking benefits, an attorney could address the situation. Legal counsel could prepare the insurance claim, negotiate a settlement with the insurer or manage litigation if a lawsuit becomes necessary.