The modern economy wouldn’t exist without the contribution of millions of night-shift workers. They ensure that deliveries arrive on time, that supermarket shelves are stocked for the following day, and that patients staying overnight in hospital are properly cared for.
Night work poses its own risks to those performing it, however. It’s the responsibility of employers to ensure that these risks are properly managed. In some cases, this responsibility might be enforced by the law.
Hours and Limits
Workers who spend excessive amounts of time at work are at greater risk of developing health problems. Moreover, they tend to be less productive as time goes on.
The law states that workers who spend more than three hours working between 11pm and 6am are classified as night workers. There’s some flexibility to shift these hours – but they must always include the time between midnight and 5am.
Workers younger than eighteen are forbidden from working between midnight and 4am. For many industries, it’s 10pm and 6am – though there are exceptions for certain industries, like hospitality and agriculture, and for certain emergency situations. When extended hours are required, young people must be given a rest of equivalent length.
It isn’t just excessive hours and sleep deprivation that pose a danger to night-shift workers. You might find that you’re working in an environment where visibility is poor, and where hazards are present. Construction sites and roadworks tend to pose particular problems. We can get around them with the help of high-visibility workwear.
Night temperatures also tend to pose a challenges, especially during winter. Thermal undergarments can help workers to stay warm without compromising on the way that they look.
Employers have a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to provide a safe working environment – and this extends to keeping everyone warm. Exposure to cold temperatures puts organisations at increased risk of absenteeism, which can hamper profitability in the long-term.
Extra Pay for Night Work
It’s common practice for employers to offer extra pay to those working night-shifts. Since the work tends to be less desirable, this may be necessary – but if workers feel as though they’re financially obligated to accept night shift work, it might be that the practice is unsustainable.
Many of the rights we’ve outlined here are to be found in the Working Time Regulations 1998. Also included in those regulations is an obligation of employers to offer free health assessments to workers who intend to become, or who already are, night-shift workers. These should be regularly conducted, and records of them should be kept for at least two years.
Moreover, a worker should be transferred, if possible, to day work if their doctor judges that they are suffering from health problems as a result of their doing night-shift work.