Nursing Work Overload and Effect on Patient Safety


The primary role of the nurses is to provide an optimal care to both the inpatients and the outpatients. This form of a healthcare commitment within the highly sensitive areas often requires the nurses to remain alert and vigilant in the hospitals throughout their working durations (Carayon & Gurses, 2010). A constant problem that often threatens the safety of the patients and the concentration of the nurses is fatigue. Carayon and Gurses (2010) assert that one of the main contributing factors of nurse fatigue in a workplace is high nursing workload. This essay discusses the nature of high nursing workload, the setting in which nursing workload can be observed, its impact on the work environment and quality of care, and its impact on the patient outcomes as well as its research significance in the nursing practice.

Nature of the Problem

Every work is tiring, and excess work is even more tiring. Hence, the size of a workload determines the level of fatigue. Several manageable deaths have occurred within the hospitals due to lapses in the nursing systems. According to Hughes (2001), the issue of high nursing workload has been a prevalent matter in most of the hospitals across America and in several parts of the world. A nursing work overload occurs when the nurses work on excess assignments and extra time due to understaffing, unstable work systems within the workplaces, or due to the worsened patients conditions (Hughes, 2001). A recent American research on the issues of nursing workload and patient safety revealed that the rapidly increasing national population and the patient population are overwhelming to the nurses (Carayon & Gurses, 2010). Hence, nurse workload increases with the number of patients.

The Settings where Workload Can be Observed

In the nursing practice, a nursing workload can occur in various settings although four main scenarios can explain the manner in which a nursing workload can happen. In their recent study of the American Health Care System, Carayon and Gurses (2012) discovered that a nursing workload occurs within the unit levels, within the normal work levels, within the patient levels, and within the situational levels. The situational and patient levels are forms of workloads that form part of the job-level workload, while the job-level workload falls within the unit-level workload (Neill, 2012). This means that the problem of nursing workload is systemic and revolves around several issues such as hospital management, work arrangement, staffing, and healthcare infrastructure. Concerning emergencies, Hughes (2001) explains that nurses also face extreme pressure from the increasing numbers of patients that present serious issues.

Effects of a Nursing Workload

A nursing workload affects almost all the parameters of healthcare because nurses form an important part of the healthcare system. In terms of its effect on the work environment, a nursing workload causes stress and fatigue, which are two major aspects that contribute to increased health risks, accidents, low work concentration, and practice lapses (Neill, 2012). Poor concentration at workplace, fatigue, depression, and stress, are factors that affect the mental and physical alertness of the nurses in their working environments. According to Neill (2012), the altered concentration of the nurses in the workplace affects the quality of care that the nurses can provide, and hence, the health outcomes of the patients remain affected. Hughes (2001) established that several American nurses that have contributed to unintended deaths, have faced unfair legal charges pertaining to contributory duty negligence.

Significance of the Study

In a study, Carayon and Gurses (2010) revealed that some deaths of patients are unnatural and unintended because they sometimes associate with workplace negligence. Nonetheless, so much remains unknown about the strenuous and frustrating workplace conditions of the nurses and the contribution of a nursing workload to a workplace stress (Carayon & Gurses, 2010). A nursing workload is a serious issue in the American Health Care System that needs a special attention in its research (Neill, 2012). Through giving an in-depth analysis of the issue of the nursing workload and the manner in which it affects the nursing practice within the healthcare centers, the nursing industry may reshape effectively. Practitioners and policymakers will definitely understand the vital issues that affect the nursing fraternity (Carayon & Gurses, 2010). They will also learn the manner in which they can formulate reformative policies.


Internationally, it is obvious that an acute nurse shortage seems to contribute to high nursing workloads. Nursing workload is a universal healthcare concern that seems to affects several health care centers across the world due to the overwhelming health situations, chronic health issues, nurse shortages, and poor management within the hospitals. Although the problem is eminent in several nations, there exist very few remedies for countering the problem. Nursing workload is actually a dangerous issue as it causes stress, depression, and fatigue, which are some of the major factors that affect the physical and mental alertness of the nurses in the workplaces. Several cases of deaths and injuries that involve the nurses in the hospitals are due to nursing workload, which seems to influence the behavior of the nurses in their work environments.


Carayon, P., & Gurses, A. (2010). Chapter 30. Nursing Workload and Patient Safety—A Human Factors Engineering Perspective. Rockville, United States: Academic Press.

Hughes, R. (2001). Nursing workload: an unquantifiable entity. Journal of Nursing Management, 7(6), 317-322.

Neill, D. (2012). Nursing Workload and the Changing Health Care Environment: A Review of the Literature. Administrative Issues Journal, 1(2), 132-140.

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