This is why safe staffing laws are needed on the federal level:
Like truck drivers on the highway, tired nurses can hurt other people, as well as themselves, when they make errors. In 2006, RN Julie Thao was in her sixteenth hour of work when she connected the wrong bag to an IV tube in a teenage girl about to give birth in Madison, Wisconsin. The baby survived, but the mother died after a painkiller designed to ease her labor stopped her heart instead. An experienced nurse with a good record, Thao was fired, then prosecuted by the state. After a negotiated guilty plea, her license was suspended and she can never again work in critical care.
With healthcare union backing, nurses have won curbs on mandatory overtime in a few places. But even one of the best state laws, in Maine, gives them the right to refuse additional work only after twelve hours. And there's a big difference between leaving overtime decisions up to individuals and capping everyone's
permissible hours to protect patients from any hospital staffer--nurse or doctor-in-training--unable to work safely. Nurses are allowed by hospitals, often with union acquiescence, to work as many shifts, twelve hours or longer, per week as they wish. Meanwhile, American Medical College Association guidelines allow notoriously sleep-deprived interns and residents to be on duty eighty hours every week. Both practices fly in the face of studies showing that, among nurses, error rates increase after ten hours on the job, plus personal health suffers because of more back, neck, shoulder and needle-stick injuries, stress-related illnesses, smoking and drinking, and after-work car accidents.