To determine if skipping breaks and meal periods increases the risk of errors.
Anecdotal data suggest that staff nurses frequently skip their breaks and/or meal periods to provide patient care. Neither the prevalence nor the impact of this practice on patient safety is known.
Three hundred ninety-three nurses completed logbooks for 28 days providing information about their work hours, errors, and episodes of drowsiness and actual sleep on duty. Participants were asked if they were able to take a break or sit down for a meal during their shift, to indicate the total duration of breaks taken during the shift, and if they were relieved of patient care responsibilities during their meals and/or break periods.
Nurses reported having a break or meal period free of patient care responsibilities less than half of the shifts they worked (2,429/5,211 shifts). There were no differences in the risk of errors reported by nurses who had a break free of patient care responsibilities compared with those who were unable to take a break.
Although skipping breaks and/or meal periods was not associated with a higher risk of making errors, there are other compelling reasons for nurses to take breaks.