Should Laboratory Personnel’s Total Work Hours be Regulated?

In the past decade, a higher number of medical laboratory personnel work more than one job due to the medical lab personnel shortage situation nationwide and the depressed global economy overall. With more of the baby boomers retiring now, the threat of increasing lab personnel shortages is imminent. Healthcare organizations face challenges in recruiting lab personnel, especially in the highly specialty areas such as microbiology and blood banking. Alarmingly (but perhaps not surprisingly) in metropolitan areas a significant number of clinical personnel work two full-time jobs – that means these employees are working for a minimum of 16 hours per day! If travel time is considered, these employees could have less than 5.5 hours sleep per day. How many people can function long term with such limited sleep? While federal laws do govern how many slide reviews a cytotechnologist can perform per day, there are none that govern the number of hours per day laboratory professionals can work.   Should such laws exist?

In December 2011, the Joint Commission (JC) published a very important Sentinel Event Alert (SEA) Issue on “Healthcare worker fatigue and patient safety.” The publication addressed the effects and risks of an extended workday and cumulative days of extended work hours beyond 12.5 hours. The SEA cited the 2004 study that when nurses worked more than 12.5 hours, they were three (3) times more than likely these personnel created errors in patient care. This alert raised awareness that fatigue could jeopardize patient safety. Transcription errors or reading a patient ID number incorrectly can occur when personnel are fatigue or sleep deprived.

Are efforts to reduce or prevent the errors jeopardized by allowing laboratory professionals to work long hours? Should clinical personnel’s total hours be regulated for patient safety protection? Regardless of the answers to the above questions, healthcare leaders should start planning on how to perform root cause analysis on the medical errors pursuant to the best practices guideline. It is crucial to identify whether or not sleep deprivation and fatigue are a contributing factor and then implement strategies to mitigate the risks on patient safety.


Information on policies or practices are solely from my personal experience ONLY and have NO relation to my affiliation with any regulatory or government agency.


-Caroline Satyadi, MT(ASCP), SM, DLM, SLS, MBA, MS, CQA (ASQ) has been a laboratory management professional for over 25 years. She has worked with several different medical industries for CLIA/CMS, FDA/ICH/ISO, TJC/CAP/COLA/HFAP accreditation survey readiness.


4 thoughts on “Should Laboratory Personnel’s Total Work Hours be Regulated?”

  1. Most lab techs I know who work more than one job are doing it for money period. I am pretty sure more techs will have to leave the field if they can’t work the hours they need to pay their bills. I agree that working two full time jobs is asking for critical errors to occur in a clinical laboratory, but the best way to get people into the field is increasing pay. Oh, and a little respect from other healthcare workers might help!

  2. I worked for a small hospital for a few years. During that time, we had 2 years with critically low staffing– 3 MTs to cover 24/7! We were working 4 12 hour shifts and took call for 12 hours 2-3 times/ week. That meant we had to work for 36 hours straight about once every other week ( 12 on- 12 call-12 on). It was so difficult to drive home safely, that I know I was not at my best at work. Who could be! We pointed out to the Administration that this was going on, and we needed help badly. THEY REFUSED to let us get a temp for quite a few months! I sincerely hope we never caused any harm. There seemed to be no protection for us, or for our patients. If this happened to us, it must be happening elsewhere too. Another shift work dilemma I see is the vacant night shift. Evening shift employees are usually the ones expected to work an additional 4-8 hours– sometimes with no notice. There seems to be some protection for nursing staff, but what about lab? Even the coal mining industry has stringent standards for shift work. There are safety and health concerns which have been addressed by mining experts, but there is still a lot of disregard for the health and well being of laboratory professionals. Just put us in the basement and don’t tell anyone what’s going on! We get the work done, no matter what! Even when our conditions are bad, we have a lot of pride in the quality and timeliness of our work!

  3. 8 hrs. is enough for our field with the stress we have. 10 hrs. puts you in a position where you are so tired & mistakes start to happen. 12 hrs. is way too much & mistakes are made a lot. You’re tired & stress sets in. 8 hr shifts should come back to cover holes that are made because there’s no one to fill in because of finances, not enough personnel, etc.

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