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NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Rest Breaks

Taking rest breaks at least every 2 hours during work shifts will reduce the risk for on-the-job injuries and errors.21

Arlinghaus and colleagues have shown a clear dose-response relationship between rest breaks and on-the-job injuries: longer total time on breaks was significantly related to longer time spent on work tasks without having an injury.22

Lombardi and colleagues found that after taking breaks, workers on day shift went longer without an injury than did workers on evening and night shifts.23 In this study, workers on evening and night shifts had poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration than day shift workers. This can put them at higher risk for fatigue, errors, and injuries. Therefore, it may be especially helpful for workers on evening and night shifts to have additional breaks or longer time on breaks.

Managers can systematically promote meal and rest breaks during work shifts. At the beginning of the shift, managers can schedule the breaks along with the other work assignments. During the shift, they can encourage nurses to take their breaks and create a system for coverage of their duties while on break.

Consider planning enriched breaks that include activities such as

  • Exercise or stretching
  • Novel or amusing diversions.

Researchers do not know how long the alerting effect of a rest break lasts. Factors such as these influence their effect:

  • How long a person has been awake
  • The amount of sleep debt
  • The time of day (circadian effect)
  • Time on task (particularly with monotonous tasks).
Module: 5, Page 10 of 20