Sleeping on Duty – Professional Misconduct

Under the European Working Times Directive, it is lawful to work long shifts, up to 12 hours.

Professionals who work night duty may find that they suffer from fatigue. It is known that fatigue can lead to mistakes being made.

The Royal College of Physicians publication, Working the night shift, preparation, survival and recovery’ (2006) states that junior doctors working full shifts should receive natural breaks of at least 30 continuous minutes after approximately four hours of work. 

Taking a brief nap during these times will refresh more than simply taking a break and should avoid the groggy after-effects or ‘sleep inertia’ that a worker can suffer if resting for longer. Naps should last no longer than 45 minutes.

Nurses have no such endorsement. The Health and Safety Executive (2006) advises that napping should be well supervised especially in situations where important safety critical decisions could be clouded by sleepiness. 

If permitted, appropriate facilities should be available with scheduled breaks of 40 minutes to allow employees sufficient time to have a short nap, refresh themselves and regain alertness before resuming work.

Sleep breaks for nurses depend on the policies of individual trusts and a nurse caught sleeping when they are supposed to be on duty could face disciplinary action if sleep breaks are against hospital policy.

,In 2013 a nurse was found asleep on a chair covered in a blanket with feet up in front of the television along with two care workers, when managers made a spot check. Imposing a 5 year caution order the NMC said that ‘sleeping on duty could have caused patient harm. The [NMC FTP] panel has a duty to protect patients.’

In June 2019 a social worker admitted falling asleep on duty for short periods of time and putting residents at risk during employment as a casual care assistant at a care home. The hearing’s panel told the social worker that in light of current impairment and the history of practice, it was necessary and proportionate to impose a Removal Order in order to protect the public.

Such is the seriousness of sleeping on duty!

If you are a professional facing allegations of sleeping on duty, contact Barristers.London without obligation and in strict confidence to discuss our legal advice and representation services. Our fees are competitve.

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