Registered nurses are the largest group of health care providers in the United States. To provide 24-hour care, hospital staff nurses often work long hours and consecutive shifts, without adequate meal or rest breaks. Serious declines in functioning related to provider fatigue can lead to safety issues for patients and nurses alike. The occupational health nurse can assess the effects of nurses' work hours and break periods on employee health, educate staff on the importance of sleep and deleterious effects of fatigue, and implement programs to improve the work environment. This article examines nurses' work hours, break and meal period laws and regulations, and the role of the occupational health nurse in caring for this group of employees. Overall findings suggest that the expertise of an occupational health nurse in the hospital setting could significantly improve the health and safety of staff nurses.
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