You are an EMS Chief for a busy, suburban fire/EMS company. At 0300 hours, you receive the call you can never adequately prepare for. Your EMS crew was in a serious accident involving the ambulance and a civilian vehicle. There are serious injuries but thankfully no fatalities. Obviously, the primary concern the well-being of all involved. A distant, but important, second issue will be an adequate investigation into the accident. During that investigation, it is determined that the driver of the ambulance veered into an oncoming lane without warning. It is also discovered that that driver had worked for 24 straight hours at a part-time job and came right into his full-time job with your company - working 40 straight hours at the time of the accident.
In the fire and EMS world, it is all too common for individuals to work long hours with minimal rest. Whether it be a volunteer who works a 12 hour day job and then volunteers for an overnight or a career person who has to work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet - it happens.
While many organizational managers may turn a blind eye, especially where personnel are doing time outside of the organization, there is certainly some obligation on the organization to prevent these issues. An organization can certainly be held liability for the negligent or reckless acts of its employees in many situations.
First, an organization that permits personnel to work extended hours must take great caution as there is direct knowledge of the shift length and presumably the associated dangers. Second, an organization that has some knowledge of an employee who is working extended hours at multiple locations must similarly take precautions.
Liability is almost always a fact-specific inquiry but certainly an organization can put itself in a good position by following some simple guidelines:
(1) Have a policy on scheduling which limits the number of consecutive shifts/hours. There is no "magical number." It would depend on how busy the organization is and the ability to have down/rest time as well as the availability of other crews to rotate calls;
(2) An organization should have strong and involved leadership that monitors the performance and well-being of its personnel (both career and volunteer). The leadership cannot simply turn a blind eye to what goes on outside of the organization (other jobs, obligations, etc.).
(3) Support well-being initiatives like exercise on shift, providing healthy snacks/foods and ensuring there is adequate down-time during extended shifts.
The key to avoiding liability - take care of your personnel and they will take care of the public and your organization! If you have questions or are looking to develop the relevant policies contact your counsel or Valocchi Law if you are a Pennsylvania organization and do not have counsel.