Overtime and shift practices are becoming more visible job safety issues in this age of lean and mean, high-performance business operations. The most recent example is a petition presented to OSHA on behalf of more than 40,000 physicians-in-training asking the agency to put limits on the hours they work.

Medical residents regularly clock 95 hours, and as many as 136 out of 168 hours in a week, according to the petition filed by Public Citizen, a health advocacy group, and backed by the Committee of Interns and Residents and the American Medical Student Association.

Petitioners want OSHA to limit the work week for young doctors to 80 hours, limit shifts to a maximum of 24 hours, require a minimum of 10 hours off between shifts, and require at least one 24-hour off-duty period per week.

What are the health and safety risks of regular 95+ hour work weeks? The medical residents’ petition cites surveys showing that:

  • Average residents go as long as 37.6 hours without sleep.

  • Six out of seven surgical residents have fallen asleep while driving.

  • Almost a third of residents experience depression.

OSHA says the petition is under review, but its charter, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, does not address the issue of work hours.

The Department of Transportation regulates hours worked by airline pilots, truck drivers, and locomotive engineers for safety reasons.

New York is the only state to legally limit resident working hours. Six countries and jurisdictions have limits, including 56 hours per week in the United Kingdom, 48 hours in the Netherlands, and 70 hours in Australia.