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Sleep-related accidents and compensation


Long work hours and a lack of sleep can contribute to accidents while on the job and on the way home.

A Missouri woman, however, failed to convince a state appeals court that she should receive comp benefits after her car ran off the road during her 22-mile drive home following a 16-hour work shift.

The nurse had worked 8 hour shifts for 9 consecutive days before working the 16 hour shift on the 10th day. She was nodding off before her car left the road.

But the appeals court earlier this month ruled that the accident, which caused the nurse serious injuries, didn't arise in the course of her employment.

The nurse “chose” to go to sleep around 10:30 p.m. when she had to rise around 4:30 a.m. to start her shift at 5:45 a.m., the appeals court found.

You can view the court decision here.

Employers typically are not liable for accidents occurring on the way home. But Missouri courts have recognized a “special hazard” exception when employees are subject to “an abnormal exposure to an employment related peril.”

That occurred in a 1990 case where an electrical lineman worked 86 hours over four days just before crashing into an oncoming car while driving home. In that case, though, the lineman's work schedule denied him time to sleep. His work also involved extreme physical labor outside in the cold.

Even indoor jobs, however, contribute to safety problems when workers toil for long hours that don't allow for adequate sleep.

A 2005 study funded by NIOSH, for example, found that medical interns who worked shifts lasting more than 24 hours were more than twice as likely to have a car crash leaving the hospital and five times more likely to have a near miss as interns working shorter shifts.

Additional NIOSH information on reducing safety issues associated with shift work is available here.