Night worker health and safety: looking after staff on the late shift

Tue 17th Apr 2018

How can employers manage the health and safety of night workers? Coodes Solicitors Employment Lawyer Philip Sayers outlines an employer’s responsibility to staff on the night shift.

All employers have to comply with health and safety legislation, designed to protect the wellbeing of workers. But for those organisations that run a night shift, there are greater risks for employees and additional regulations for employers.

Health and safety: a priority for all employers

Whatever the nature of your business, the health and safety of your employees needs to be a priority. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated and most of it is common sense. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a useful guide for employers here.

Whether your staff are working during the day or night, they should be able to carry out their tasks in a healthy environment. This includes having access to toilets and hand basins, drinking water, and a clean space in which to work. Look out for trip hazards and ensure there are no obstructions to walkways and fire exits.

If you have five or more employees you need to have a written health and safety policy. However well thought through it is, a policy is no good if it is just gathering dust on the shelf. Keep it under regular review, update it when necessary and ensure your staff read and understand it.

The law does not expect you to anticipate every possible accident, but you are expected to carry out risk assessments for foreseeable dangers in your workplace. These will depend on the nature of the work but could be related to using machinery, being in a challenging environment or heavy lifting.

Perhaps most importantly of all, ensure your staff are given the necessary training to help them stay safe at work. As your employer it is your duty to ensure they know how to follow any emergency procedures and are given training for any potentially hazardous tasks.

Additional health and safety regulations for night shift workers

Staff who regularly work three hours between 11pm and 6am are officially night workers. Shift work has been linked with a number of health issues and some chronic illnesses. To give staff more protection, employers must follow additional regulations.

Working hours and rest breaks for night staff

Night workers must not work more than an average of eight hours in any 24-hours. This is in addition to the normal rest breaks provided for in the Working Time Regulations. Occasional overtime above the average eight hours that takes them over that limit is allowed. Employees cannot opt out of this limit and it is a criminal offence for an employer to breach these obligations. No-one under 18 is allowed to work between midnight and 4am and with partial exceptions, including agriculture, catering and cultural or sporting roles, these younger members of staff cannot work between 10pm and 6am.

Employers are legally required to keep records of any night workers’ hours to prove that they are not exceeding the limits. These records must be kept for a minimum of two years.

Work in certain industries can be exempted from these regulations. They include the armed forces, farming, hospitals and emergency services. Different rules apply to staff working in roles in road, sea and air transport.

Looking after the wellbeing of night workers

Employers must offer all staff a free health assessment before they become a night worker. This should also be offered on a regular basis while they continue to work a night shift. While employers must offer it, employees are not obliged to accept it. If a GP states that night working is causing a health problem the night worker must be transferred to day work wherever possible.

Employers should carry out risk assessments for any night staff working in roles that involve mental or physical strain or working in a hazardous environment.

Dealing with an accident in your workplace

However well you promote safe working, accidents can and do happen. You must have a properly stocked first aid box and someone who is responsible for first aid. You may also want to offer first aid training to some of your staff, including those working nights.

Employers have a legal obligation to report some accidents to the HSE. Find out more about this and report an accident here.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers, Employment team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or

Tue 17th Apr 2018

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