Night shift workers

Protect your workers by reading our guide to legal responsibilities and health hazards

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Wednesday, Feb 01, 2023

Working nights is a common part of the modern business world, with at least 12% of the British workforce in such roles.

Over the last five years there’s been a 150,000 increase, the Trades Union Congress confirms.

As a business, how should you go about bringing this into your workforce? We explain everything below, starting with night shift rights for your workers.

Employment law and night shifts

In this section we’ll take a look at night working regulations in the UK. Naturally, there are specific laws you must follow—completing duties at that time does represent complexities. It’s also unnatural for people to work over that time period.

First of all, let’s cover the basics. What do night workers’ jobs involve? They’re staff who work at least three hours throughout the night between 11pm and 6am.

And how many hours by law can you work at night? Well, you can agree in writing different night work periods with your employees, however, they must be seven hours long and must include midnight and 5am.

Night shift workers have the right to National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage, but there is no statutory requirement for a higher night working rate.

Night workers’ rights are different for staff aged 16 or 17 typically aren’t allowed to do night shift work.

There are special cases where young people can work until 10pm or 11pm to midnight and 4am to 6am or 7am, such as those working in businesses including hotels and restaurants.

Young people who work in hospitals, advertising, sports or perform cultural activities can also work a night shift.

If there are special hazards around your workplace (such as in a construction environment), your worker should not perform their duties for more than eight hours in a 24-hour period. The same goes for individuals covering tasks involving mental or physical strain.

The effects of working a night shift

As an employer overseeing working alone at night, laws state you must ensure they’re “reasonably” safe.

Is working night shift bad for your health? Yes, especially if left unregulated by employers. Lack of sleep has a negative effect on night shift workers’ circadian rhythm, which controls temperature, metabolism, and sleeping patterns.

Long periods without proper sleep increases the chance of mistakes, accidents, and injuries.

The risk of something going wrong is higher where night work involves tasks that require a lot of mental or physical energy. Night shift safety hazards can include:

  • Poor health.
  • Fatigue.
  • Stress.
  • Disruption to family and social life.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Lowered performance.
  • Development of health issues such as depression.
  • Increase in the number of accidents.

Although your workers’ health must come first, other shift work side effects can include low employee retention rates.

It’s generally not viewed as a desirable job and a daytime shift is typically preferred by the majority of employees.

You can alleviate concerns by offering perks as part of your night shift work. This can include a higher wage than daytime shift workers and extra time off to recuperate.

For example, some businesses operate a four nights on, four nights off night working pattern. This allows staff to recuperate during their days off.

Responsibilities as an employer

As the consequences can be severe, there are night shift workers rights you must follow to minimise health & safety risks:

  • Offer a free health assessment: You’ll need to provide an assessment to new night shift workers. This can be a questionnaire or a medical assessment. A qualified medical professional will give their opinion (subject to confidentiality) about whether your worker is fit to do night work. It’s compulsory for you to make the health assessment available, but it’s up to your worker whether they accept it. You need to continue to offer health assessments regularly to your night shift workers.
  • Employment Assistance Programmes: Such as Bright EAP, are also available to help your employees cope with the pressures of night shift work.
  • Keep appropriate records: You’re required to maintain records to prove that night workers haven’t gone over the recommended working limits under the Working Time Regulations (WTR) 1998. You also need to keep records of health assessments and the dates you offered health assessments. Keep all records relating to night workers for a minimum of two years.
  • Carry out risk assessments: The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 set out your duty to do risk assessments to spot hazards and physically and mentally demanding work.
  • Control work hours: To comply with the WTR, you should ensure your night shift workers don’t work in excess of an average of eight hours within a 24-hour period. You can calculate the average over 17 weeks (or up to 52 weeks if you and your staff agree).

Recommendations for night shift work

There are steps you can take to reduce night work hazards, including:

  • Creating a well-organised shift schedule.
  • Avoiding permanent night shift work.
  • Allowing a minimum of two nights’ full sleep when switching between day and night shifts.
  • Providing training about night shift work risks and sources of information and support.
  • Giving tips on how to stay healthy while working nights.

You can make sure your business and staff get the best from night shift work by considering health & safety procedures.

You should also look to implement efficient rota planning policies. This can help your business to keep track of each worker and how long they’re shifts last.

By keeping track of your various schedules, you can ensure no one is working longer hours than they should be.

Looking for help?

If you’re looking to hire staff who’ll be working nights, get in touch for help following laws and health & safety procedures: 0800 783 2806.

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