Liabilities and Responsibility

Key Message: The nurse, the nurse manager, and the employer share in the responsibility of adopting strategies to reduce risks.

Evidence is mounting that shift work and long work hours are linked to nursing care errors, accidents, and injuries. In December 2011, The Joint Commission issued a Sentinel Event Alert recommending that healthcare organizations implement strategies to reduce healthcare worker fatigue.2 In 2012, The Joint Commission discussed the broad benefits to healthcare organizations when they implement systems to reduce worker fatigue.3 Promoting an alert workforce will clearly benefit both patients and workers.

Errors due to fatigue can have serious consequences for nurses, their employers, and their managers. In one case, a tired nurse made a medication error that led immediately to the death of a young woman.37 The nurse lost her job and the state board of nursing suspended her license.38 Shift work and long work hours are known risk factors for crashes due to drowsy driving.27-29 Both drowsy drivers and their employers have been penalized when a crash caused a death.39-42

So, in addition to possible personal injury, errors because of fatigue can have devastating consequences such as high legal fines, loss of work, and lasting mental pain for those involved.

Adopting strategies to promote adequate sleep can help prevent these tragedies.