Work breaks have become an issue at a number of VHPA workplaces. Members have reported that they don’t or can’t take the breaks they are entitled to.

In most workplaces, Health Professionals are entitled to about 20 minutes worth of tea breaks and a meal break in a full day. However, for various reasons many members feel that they can’t take these hard won entitlements.

As a question of workplace health and safety, VHPA would like to encourage members to take their breaks. By skipping breaks, you may be doing yourself, your patients and your co-workers a disservice:

  • Continuing when fatigued may mean you’re not working efficiently. Everyone is familiar with a time where they were tired and made small mistakes in work tasks. These little mistakes not only waste time, they can have serious consequences in the health profession. High levels of fatigue have shown to increase the number of near-miss accidents in the workplace.
  • One study has found that the number of sick days can be predicted based on the level of fatigue of staff – so higher levels of fatigue can mean more sick days.
  • Members performing repetitive tasks at work need regular breaks to avoid RSI and eye strain. Members doing sedentary work benefit from breaks where they are able to move about and stretch.
  • Taking breaks not only benefits you – your whole team can benefit as well. Before Massachusetts General Hospital (US) implemented a plan to make sure nurses took their lunch breaks, tea breaks were rarely taken and lunch breaks were seen as a luxury. When all staff agreed to prioritise taking breaks, nurses reported “feeling refreshed and less fatigued, enjoying increased teamwork and familiarity with their colleagues, and having improved time-management skills”.

Even when you know how important taking your breaks are, members can still find it difficult to get away from work for a few moments. If management makes it difficult to take entitled breaks, members need to contact VHPA.

Breaks might be refused, members may be requested to work through them or time for breaks just isn’t scheduled in. These can be significant collective issues for some workplaces. VHPA is working with some members to change the culture in their workplace and this is already seeing positive results so make sure you take the breaks you’re entitled to.