Shift work

13 January 2021

Whether managing essential services or offering convenience, many businesses need to be open around the clock.

That’s where shift work comes in.

Shift work ensures your business can operate long hours while still allowing your staff a work/life balance. However if not managed correctly, shift work can be very demanding for workers and harmful to their health.

In this guide, we’ll explain the types of shift work, how to manage staff rotas and protect staff wellbeing.

What is shift work?

According to the Working Time Regulations 1998, shift work is any method of organising work in shifts. Either where workers hand over to each other at the same workstations or when staff work at different times over a certain period of days or weeks.

There are many types of shifts at work, including:

  • Permanent shifts: where a worker only works one type of shift, also known as regular shifts.
  • Rotating shift work: shift schedules that vary over time.
  • Continuous shifts: in 24/7 businesses, where shifts can fall on any day of the year.
  • Discontinuous shifts: unlike continuous shifts, shifts don’t fall on weekends.
  • Split shifts: where work periods are divided into two distinct parts with several hours’ break in between.
  • Standby/on-call duties: where workers are expected to be available to work, even if they don’t work during that shift.

You can also offer alternative shift work schedules, which allows more flexibility to workers.

There’s no specific legislation covering how to manage shift work. You are required to ensure that the pattern of work gives employees sufficient rest breaks.

If it’s not undertaken with adequate planning, the detrimental effect on employees can cause significant losses, such as:

Employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health & safety of their employees, and those who might be affected by their work activities. This includes removing or controlling the risks associated with shift work, such as controlling fatigue.

The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 place general duties on employers and others regarding managing the risks of shift work.

There are also other requirements under the Working Time Regulations 1998 on employers with regard to the number of hours worked and time between shifts (how these hours are scheduled).

What is considered overnight hours?

The standard night period for working hours is 11pm to 6am. Unless staff and employers agree to a different night period.

If you set a different night period, it must be seven hours long and include midnight to 5am. Details of the agreed overnight hours must be agreed in writing.

Staff don’t need to work the full night period to be classed as night workers. Staff who regularly work at least three hours during this period are night workers.

Employees can also agree to be night workers if there’s a collective agreement, for example, trade union agreement, that states their work is night work.

A sleep shift in the night period also counts as working hours if the worker is both on call and in the workplace.

How to work night shift and stay healthy

Shift work can be very demanding on your staff and can have a negative impact on workers wellbeing. The health risks are even greater for night shift workers.

The inconsistent work patterns can disrupt a person’s sleep schedule, causing shift work sleep disorder (SWSD), which can cause more serious issues.

To prevent this, the working time directive time between shifts regulation states that workers shouldn’t work more than eight hours in any 24-hour period (averaged over 17 weeks).

Furthermore, if the night work involves special hazards, there is an absolute limit of eight hours in any 24 hours.

HSE night shift regulations set out a number of ways you can cut the risk to your staff. The guidance includes:

  • Establishing how to manage the risks of shift work: Developing clear policies and procedures for managing shift-working agreements.
  • Assessing the risks of shift work in your workplace: Considering how fatigue could contribute to errors and accidents occurring in your work environment.
  • Taking action to reduce those risks: Making changes to the shift schedule or improving the workplace environment.

Employers are also required to offer a free health assessment to employees working night shifts.

Shift pattern change law

As an employer, changing shift patterns is your decision.

When changing from night shift to day shift, law states that you need to notify employees of the change in good time to avoid confusion.

There aren’t many more specific, or vice versa. However, you need to get consent from your staff before doing so.

If their hours aren’t fixed, employers may change them at their discretion, so long as the change is reasonable. Because their initial agreement to the flexible arrangement counts as consent to change hours.

If the employee has fixed hours, the employee must agree to any change before employers make it. Failure to get their consent before changing shift patterns at work is likely to end in a breach of contract terms.

Whether implementing a change to daytime hours or swapping day shift to night shift, the law requires you to make a contract change with the worker.

It’s often a good idea to implement a trial period with the new working hours. This allows both employers and the employee to address any issues that arise because of the change.

Hold a meeting with the employee in question to address these issues and come up with solutions.

Expert support on shifts and rotas with Peninsula

Shift work has many benefits for your business and can give workers added freedom to manage their life outside of work.

However, if not managed properly, can have a negative impact on your staff’s health and safety in the workplace.

Let our expert team help you to keep staff safe. We will draft clear policies and assist you with changing employment contracts.

Peninsula clients get access to 24/7 HR advice to answer your questions as soon as they come up.

And if you’re not yet a client, you can still enjoy a free advice call from one of our business experts. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420.

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