Shift work, which includes employment outside of the typical 9-5 periods, is a key component of the economy in the UK, where millions of people work in shifts in industries like hospitality, security, manufacturing, retail, and more.
Shift patterns can sometimes result in fatigue, accidents, injuries, and ill health. Physical, mental, emotional, and cognitive signs of worker exhaustion develop with long shifts. Errors, accidents, poor health, injuries, and low productivity are all related.
There is strict UK legislation in place and the laws have been created to safeguard employees and, through them, their families, and the public at large, as a result of this phenomenon and the growing recognition of human rights and work-life balance.
If you’re wondering how many hours between shifts is legally required, as well as what the minimum is, read our article to find out.
How Many Hours Between Shifts Is Legal In The UK?
Whether intentionally or not, expectations made on employees by companies are a major contributor to fatigue. Employers are required by law to control any hazards associated with the job.
Employers are obligated by the 1974 Act to safeguard their staff members and the people they interact with.
Employers are required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations of 1999 to implement a number of risk controls, including the number of hours worked and the proper scheduling of hours.
Workplace hours are restricted by the Working Time Regulations (WTR) of 1998, which also refers to “shift work” as “a pattern of work where one employee replaces another on the same task within 24 hours.”
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance, HSG256, suggests that working hours be kept reasonable, that employees receive “enough” rest in between shifts, that they not work too many night shifts back-to-back, particularly after other shifts, and that they refrain from performing crucial tasks at the end of shifts.
Additionally, HSG256 suggests that shifts alternate between morning and afternoon and afternoon and night shifts. Forward rotation is the name for this kind of shift rotation.
Employees must take appropriate quality breaks while working in order to assist their mental, emotional, and physical renewal.
As there are additional causes of exhaustion in addition to the physical act of working. In order to properly execute all of these steps, the employer must ensure that the workplace does not contribute to drowsiness:
- Workers over 18 are entitled to rest breaks at work, daily rest, and weekly rest.
- Rest breaks – one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during a 6 hour or more shift.
- Daily rest – 11 hours rest between working days. For example, work finishing at 8pm means the next legal start is 7am the next day and no sooner than that.
- Weekly rest – one uninterrupted, non-working 24 hour break each week, or one uninterrupted non-working 48 hour break each fortnight.
- The employment contract may allow more or different rights to breaks within the listed parameters.
- Repetitive work employees, such as production line workers, should be given enough breaks to protect their health and safety.
- Domestic workers in a private home do not qualify for breaks.
What Are The Minimum Hours Between Working Shifts?
As well as shift breaks, rest breaks need to be correctly acknowledged. This can be specified by employers if:
- The break is taken in one go and is restricted near the middle of the day.
- The break is spent away from work stations.
- The full break is null and void if an employer calls an employee back to work before the break has been taken in full.
Except where specified in their employment contract, employees are not legally entitled to smoking breaks, paid rest breaks, or exceptions and special circumstances.
For shift workers, including young people, truck and bus drivers, and other professions where the work can result in missed breaks, there are compensating rest periods.
Compensatory rest breaks are the same length of time as the break that has been missed if:
- Round-the-clock staffing is vital, e.g. hospital work.
- The shift worker can’t take daily, or weekly rest breaks between the end of one shift and the beginning of another.
- The work has strong seasonal workload changes, e.g. agriculture, retail, postal or tourism.
- The work involves security and surveillance-based work.
- The work is aboard trains or is linked to trains running on time.
- The work is split, e.g. partly in the morning and part in the evening as a building caretaker.
- Their home is a long way from the work site such as an oil rig worker or multiple work sites such as a marine maintenance diver.
- There is a ‘collective’ or ‘workforce’ agreement that changes the rest breaks’ parameters.
- There’s an exceptional event or accident, and the work relates to this.
There are typically 90 hours of rest time allowed per week. Breaks taken at work, which are supplemental, are not included in this.
In conclusion, the regulations address the needs of adults (18 years of age and older). Employers are responsible for overseeing weekly, daily, and workplace breaks for rest.
A 24-hour period should have a minimum rest period of 11 uninterrupted hours. Workers have a right to at least 11 hours of rest each day, one day off per week, and, if their shifts are longer than 6 hours, a rest break of 20 minutes in the middle of it.
The employee will be given a compensatory rest period because the nature of labour performed during a 24-hour period does not permit an 11-hour break.
With this in mind, you’ll be able to fully understand your rights at work and avoid any damages to your health or work performance that come as a result of work fatigue.