Many paramedics in New Brunswick Canada saw their work schedules dramatically altered recently as the province moved away from 24-hour shifts, citing safety reasons.
According to a report from Canadian OH&S News, Ambulance New Brunswick ANB, the company the province has contracted to manage and oversee all emergency medical services operations since 2007, changed over all but three of the province's 70 EMS stations to a 12-hour shift schedule in August. The changeover was first announced in December 2010. (WCxKit)
There were 30 stations operating on the 24-hour schedule, which was introduced to deal with staffing issues and never meant to be permanent, says Alan Stephen, president and CEO of ANB. Getting rid of the long shifts was a safety decision, he says.
"The evidence would show us that long shifts, 24-hour shifts, are not great for the safety of our paramedics, our patients and for public safety, for reasons of fatigue, lack of sufficient rest periods, sleep disturbances, medical errors, vehicular errors," he says, citing studies from other jurisdictions.
Ralph McBride, the Canadian Union of Public Employees CUPE national representative for Local 4848, the New Brunswick paramedics union, disagrees with the claimed safety benefits and says there haven't been any accidents or patient care issues in the province since the 24-hour shifts were introduced. He says the studies the union did with the province showed that a 12-hour shift is no safer than a 24-hour shift because there is enough downtime when workers handle 9-1-1 calls or rest in the station's bedrooms during the latter shift.
"ANB told us that, time on task, some stations were 38 minutes in a 24-hour day, other stations ran up as high as seven-and-a-half hours," McBride says. "What happens to the other hours for time on task? They're always in the station somewhere with the ability to put their feet up and relax," he contends.
"It's not like they're working a 24-hour shift in an urban center, like a city. Our 24-hour stations are more in remote parts, where call volumes are low."
Some members are upset with the decision to move to a 12-hour schedule because it causes hardships to ambulance personnel, McBride argues, citing the difficulty of finding daycare for single parents and the dramatic increase on travel time that workers who live far from their station have to deal with.
"I have members that would work in a 24-hour station because that's the closest they could get to their home area. They were traveling two hours to work and then two hours home, and now they're going to end up traveling four days. It was just a better fit," he says.
Local 4848, which represents approximately 900 EMS workers, is waiting on an adjudication hearing to challenge the decision and is lobbying the government to look at the employer's right to make the changes, McBride remarked. (WCxKit)
The three stations staying on the 24-hour schedule are on the islands in lower New Brunswick, and are staying on the extended schedule because the number of emergency calls on the islands is much lower and paramedics working there don't have to transfer patients to other facilities, Stephen adds.
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