Avoiding Fatigue on Long Shifts: 3 Tips for EMS
Stressed and fatigued EMS workers can cause more accidents, commit more clinical errors, and are more prone to injuries, says Bryan Fass, a leading expert in public safety injury prevention. Fortunately, by continuing your education with EMS online courses and applying the knowledge you learn in your education, you can prevent accidents and injuries on long shifts. Follow these 3 tips to keep you safe during extended shifts.
Tip #1 – Start a shift well-rested.
Lack of sleep leads to damaged brain cells, making it hard to concentrate, reports USA Today. Fass recommends a regimented exercise routine to ensure you get enough sleep at night. He says, “the more regimented you are with your exercise routines, the better you sleep.”
Prioritize your sleep. Try heading to bed earlier the night before a shift, and communicate with your family so you can limit interruptions. When all else fails, look for practical solutions. Set an alarm for when you need to head to bed. Get earplugs. Try a white noise machine. Get blackout curtains. You’ll feel better and start your shift in a better mood if you get enough sleep.
Tip #2 – Eat healthy throughout your shift.
Fass suggests applying what you’ve learned in your training, CE courses, and other resources to get proper nutrition, especially during your shift. He says two factors cause EMTs to eat unhealthy while on the job: stress and fatigue. This can create a hormone imbalance that causes cravings for sweets and fats. Fass recommends eating snacks like dark-colored fruit, trail mix, and protein bars to keep your energy up on the long hauls.
For more tips on how to fuel your body to stay alert and energized, explore these resources:
- Healthy On-the-Go Meals for Healthcare & Emergency Professionals
- Dietary Supplements Proven to Boost Energy, Promote Sleep
- Dietary Strategies for Shift Workers to Improve Heart Health
- Meal Hacks for Emergency and Healthcare Professionals
- Dietary Strategies for Shift Workers to Boost Energy
Tip # 3 – Report fatigue during your shift.
In 2018, the Journal of Prehospital Emergency Care released the findings of a decades-long study. It revealed that fatigued EMS workers are widespread and not isolated to one category. Based on the results of the study, an expert panel strongly recommends using sleepiness/fatigue instruments to monitor the fatigue of EMS personnel.
The panel also recognized that frequent testing can be cumbersome and suggests random testing and targeting those with back-to-back shifts. Most importantly, the panel states, “EMS employers have a responsibility to proactively identify fatigue.” If you are working other jobs, not getting enough sleep, or simply feeling sleepy during your shift, you should let a supervisor know. No one wants to be responsible for a preventable injury or accident.
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Maguire B, Smith S. Injuries and Fatalities among Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics in the United States. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2013;28(4):376-382. doi:10.1017/s1049023x13003555
Fass B. Workplace Fatigue Creates Dangerous Risks for EMS Employees. Journal of Emergency Medical Services. 2015;1(40).
Hellmich N. If you don’t snooze, you lose, health experts say. USA Today. June 22, 2014. Accessed November 3, 2020.
Patterson P, Higgins J, Van Dongen H et al. Evidence-Based Guidelines for Fatigue Risk Management in Emergency Medical Services. Prehospital Emergency Care. 2018;22(sup1):89-101. doi:10.1080/10903127.2017.1376137