Understanding your obligations to night workers

Dec 17, 2018 | Good Management

There are specific rules in place to protect the health and safety of night workers, which are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and local environmental health departments. If you operate night working shifts or are considering doing so, you need to be aware of your obligations.

There are exceptions to some of the rules below, so if in doubt do seek guidance specific to your individual circumstances.

What is a “night worker”?

“Night worker” means a worker who regularly spends at least three hours of the working day working at night time, usually between 11pm and 6am.

Limits on working hours

Employers have a duty to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that night workers do not work more than an average of eight hours per day. If the work involves significant health and safety risks, there is an actual limit of no more than eight working hours allowed in any 24-hour period.

Health and safety

Working at night may have a detrimental impact on employees’ health, or exacerbate existing health problems.

Managing the health and wellbeing of night workers is important to avoid errors, poor performance, increased accidents and higher levels of sickness absence. More detailed risk assessments must be carried out, and in order to ensure staff are fit to work at night, a free health assessment must be offered.

In the event that a health problem relating to night work is identified by a qualified medical professional, the employee is entitled to be transferred to suitable daytime activities until the issue is resolved.

Additional health and safety obligations also apply to pregnant employees and new mothers. A risk assessment must be carried out, and where risks are identified, reasonable steps must be taken to avoid the risks. If adjustments cannot be made, then the employer should either change working hours, offer suitable alternative work or suspend on full pay to avoid the risks.

Management issues

In addition to the specific health and safety-related requirements above, there are a number of other important factors to consider regarding nightworking. It is important to ensure that adequate provision is made for night workers in terms of their working environment. Consider the ability to prepare and consume food, lighting/heating, transport to and from the workplace, regular breaks and even sleeping facilities if the work is such that napping is a possibility.

Many night working roles are solitary, and even if working with colleagues, access to facilities, information, and training opportunities can be limited as compared to daytime colleagues. Social events, workplace consultation exercises and team building events can also be problematic.

To avoid night workers feeling isolated or demotivated, make sure these issues are considered and steps taken to minimise their impact on your night working staff.


If you would like more specific information or guidance on managing night workers in your business, do get in touch.