Night work is often in the news. Union bosses are often complaining that there are major risks for night workers, including more accidents and health issues for shift and night workers, as well as night working wrecking the work-life balance.

A recent Labour Force Survey (produced by the Office for National Statistics (“ONS”)) in relation to night work revealed that the number of workers who routinely work nights has increased by 200,000 since 2007 to just under 3.2 million—a rise of 6.9% over a period when the workforce grew by around 4.6%.

So, what is night work? And what is special about night work as far as employment legislation is concerned?

Given that the definition which most people would offer would vary with the seasons, it is helpful that the Working Time Regulations (“WTR”) define “night time” as the period between 23:00 and 06:00, though employers and employees can agree their own definition of night time hours, provided the period in question lasts for at least 7 hours and includes the hours between midnight and 05:00.

Having resolved the definition of “night time”, who is a night worker? That question is also answered by WTR.  A night worker is a person who works for at least three hours during “night time”.

Night work obligations on employers within WTR (some of which overlap with obligations relating to all employees) include:

Taking all reasonable steps to protect workers’ health and safety to ensure that each worker’s average working time (including overtime) does not exceed 48 hours per week. Though the topic of the 48-hour working week is too large to be dealt with here, it is worth issuing a reminder that simply because an employee signs a 48-hour waiver does not mean that an employer can wash his hands of health and safety obligations.

  • Taking all reasonable steps to ensure that night workers’ normal hours of work do not exceed 8 hours per day on average;
  • Ensuring that no night worker doing work involving special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain works for more than 8 hours in any day;
  • Ensuring that all night workers have the opportunity of a free health assessment when starting night work and at regular intervals thereafter
  • Transferring a night worker to day work, where possible, if a doctor advises that night work is causing health problems;
  • Giving workers adequate rest breaks where the pattern of work is such as to put their health and safety at risk (particularly where the work is monotonous);

Allowing workers the following rest periods:

  • 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest per day
  • 24 hours’ uninterrupted rest per week (or 48 hours per fortnight);
  • A break of 20 minutes where the working period is 6 hours or more;
  • Keeping and maintaining records to demonstrate compliance with the above obligations.

That is quite a substantial number of obligations. Employers of day workers need to do little more than offer a 20-minute break and make sure that they have their workers’ signatures to 48-hour waivers.  Employers of night workers are rather less fortunate.

If you employ night workers and feel you need further help, please do not hesitate to contact us for further advice and information on night worker regulations.