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State-mandated caps on registered nurses’ mandatory overtime have succeeded in reducing medical mistakes and decreasing turnover rates, a new study finds.

As part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s RN Work Project, investigators determined, in a 10-year longitudinal survey, that capping newly registered nurses’ overtime hours could make clinical environments safer for both patients and nurses. Additionally, they found that caps contribute to job retention. And although the study focused on hospitals, its results could apply to long-term care facilities where nurses and aides routinely work 12-hour shifts or more.

According to the study, investigators expected to find that banning mandatory overtime would just increase voluntary overtime, but their results indicate no relationship between the two.

States have imposed overtime limits solely to reduce medical errors, but experts say it also has had the unexpected positive result of improving retention.

“In this case, the states developed caps on mandatory overtime with safety issues in mind, reasoning that fewer mandatory overtime hours would translate into fewer hours overall,” said lead investigator Sung-Heui Bae, Ph.D., RN. “The tool is effective. Other states with similar objectives can follow suit and expect similar results.”