After pressure from ACEP on behalf of our members, The Joint Commission (TJC) has clarified that emergency physicians, contrary to popular belief, can eat and drink at their ED workspaces.
Most emergency physicians have suffered on the job, unable to eat and drink to maintain the energy necessary for long shifts in the emergency department. Caring about our members’ well-being, ACEP worked with TJC to issue a formal clarification in the March issue of its newsletter Perspectives that explains how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), hospital, and TJC policies work together to protect both clinicians and patients.
“Our job is so hard, for people to make it harder is just unfair,” said Sandy Schneider, MD, FACEP, a practicing emergency physician and ACEP’s associate executive director of practice. “I think it seems like such a small thing, but ACEP has really done something huge here. Not only has ACEP helped clarify that we can eat and drink, ACEP has also said, ‘When we can, we’re going to make things better for you.’”
In the article, TJC explained its role in regulating food and drinks in the emergency department. TJC’s responsibility is twofold: 1) to make sure facilities are conforming with OSHA regulations and 2) to help enforce each hospital’s own internal policies.
TJC standards do not specifically address where staff can have food and drink in work areas. OSHA also does not have a prohibition against the consumption of food and beverages at workstations, including those in the emergency department.
“When I started out practicing, we were able to eat and drink during our shift, within reason. Gradually, that was taken away from us, “ Dr. Schneider said. “We weren’t sure where this was coming from. They kept saying it was The Joint Commission, it was OSHA, we had to do this, it was against the law, etc.
“All I know is … after a shift, I was tired. My hips and knees hurt. I’d come home and just go to bed. Now, [at my current job], I have a place to eat and drink. I actually work a longer shift, and I see more patients! It’s interesting. Just the ability to eat and drink makes you feel more human.”
OSHA does have a bloodborne pathogen regulation that forbids eating, drinking, and storing food in areas that could be exposed to blood or potentially infectious materials. OSHA regulations also require hospitals to evaluate work areas to determine which could potentially be contaminated and to ban staff from eating and drinking in those specific areas. On the flip side, OSHA does not require hospitals to create safe eating and drinking zones for staff; that decision is left to each individual hospital.