House approves bill guaranteeing meal and rest breaks for nurses

OLYMPIA – Described during floor debate as “the pre-eminent patient safety bill of the session,” a measure guaranteeing meal and rest breaks for nurses passed the House today. It would provide for uninterrupted meal and rest breaks, and prohibit the use of prescheduled on-call time to fill foreseeable staff shortages.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, sponsored the bill to address both patient safety and worker fairness.

“You shouldn’t have to think about whether the hospital you or your loved is admitted to gives its workers enough breaks,” Riccelli said. “There’s a reason nursing is one of the most trusted professions. But fatigue and burnout are taking a toll on the profession. Too many nurses are working too many hours without breaks, putting patient safety at risk.”

The bill addresses what has been an ongoing issue for frontline nursing staff in hospitals, many of whom work 12+ hour shifts without uninterrupted breaks. While the issue is often raised in collective bargaining, employers don’t always comply with the agreements. One nurse’s association had to file a lawsuit in order to be able to take breaks.

Riccelli’s bill would put guaranteed breaks into statute.

“Every person who goes into a hospital should feel confident they’ll get the best care possible,” Riccelli said. “When those who provide that care get breaks, the likelihood of medical errors is reduced. This is a win for both workers and patient safety.”

HB 1715 is now headed the Senate for consideration.