How employers can limit the dangers of shift work?

What is Shift Work?

HSE Defines Shift Working as:

There is no specific definition of shift work in law. However, it is usually taken to mean a work activity scheduled outside standard daytime hours, where there may be a handover of duty from one individual or work group to another. A pattern of work where one employee replaces another on the same job within a 24-hour period.

What is night shift work?

Night work is defined within the working-time directive; typically, it involves work between the hours of 11 o’clock in the evening and 6 o’clock in the morning, but can be agreed between employers and the work force to be any seven-hour period that includes the period from midnight until 5 o’clock in the morning.

Long term shift working, which can lead to fatigue and sleep debt, is often a contributory factor in accidents, especially where driving or using machinery. Moreover, it can lead to ill health, stress and overall poor performance.

What employers can do to limit the risks faced by shift workers?

There are several things employers can do to limit the risks:

  • Carry out a risk assessment as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
  • Minimise back-to-back night shifts as far as possible
  • Ensure hours are recorded and Working Time Regulations are observed
  • Have a formal process so that employees can raise concerns about health at work and monitor the situation (e.g. introduce health surveillance where appropriate – there is a legal duty under Working Time Regulations to offer a free health assessment to night workers). Take appropriate action if health risks are identified


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  • Allow sufficient rest between shifts and, where possible, allow compensatory rest when overtime has been worked
  • Identify any vulnerable groups such as expectant mothers and workers with pre-existing conditions and undertake specific risk assessments;
  • Where it is medically certified that night work will affect the health of a new or expectant mother then there is an obligation for the employer to offer suitable alternative work at a similar rate of pay or suspend on full pay
  • Allow for regular rest breaks
  • Some people cope with shift working better than others and are naturally either ‘owls’ or ‘early birds’, therefore, in the first instance allow workers to volunteer for shifts which suit their body clock
  • Provide a clear statement to workers that the risk of working shifts is taken seriously at all levels of the organisation
  • Provide information on policy including implementation
  • Properly understand what is involved in all areas of operation in order to implement appropriate and effective controls
  • Monitor the measures put in place to protect against ill effects caused by shift working and review to ensure ongoing effectiveness

The procedures above are a good example of how to control the risk to shift workers. To ensure your procedures are suitable you will need to complete a risk assessment; this involves assessing the hazards specific to your workplace and employees and deciding what controls are need to reduce those hazards. Not completed risk assessments before?  The HR24 Health and Safety team are happy to talk you through the process.

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