As an employer, you may run a business that requires some of your employees to work through the night. And if night shift work is a part of your company, there are some risks that you need to be aware of. Extra mental strain, disruption to family life, and increased chance of accidents to name but a few.
So if you have employees who work nights, it's important you keep them safe. Failure to do so can lead to claims being raised against you.
In this guide, we'll discuss what night work is, your employees' entitlements, and how to keep them safe.
What is night work?
Under Irish law, night work is any work done between midnight and 7am. Night workers are covered under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (OWTA).
Any employee is classed as working nights if the following requirements are met:
- They work for at least three hours of their daily working time between midnight and 7am.
- At least half their working hours in a year are during these hours.
Under the act, night workers have extra legal protection to ensure their safety.
What are the negatives of night work?
As an employer, there are some potential risks of night work that you need to be aware of. Doing so can mean your employees stay safe.
- Disruption of the internal body clock (circadian rhythms).
- Sleeping difficulties.
- Health effects.
- An increased chance of accidents or errors.
- Disruption to family or personal life.
What are the limits to night shifts?
Under Irish law, no night worker should ever work more than eight hours over a 24-hour period.
Their average working hours are calculated over either:
- A two-month period.
- A longer period if it's part of a collective agreement.
If their work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, they cannot work more than eight hours in a 24-hour period.
Break entitlements for night workers
You have a legal requirement to provide any employees on night time work with the correct break entitlement.
- A daily rest period of eleven consecutive hours every 24 hour period.
- A weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours per seven days, following a daily rest period.
- A break of 15 minutes where more than four and a half hours have been worked.
- a break of 30 minutes where more than six hours have been worked, which may include their first break.
However, the law states that you do not have to pay employees for their breaks.
What are the health & safety rights of a night worker?
People working nights have extra health & safety rights, and certain employees may be at a higher risk. There are pregnant employees, employees with pre-existing health conditions, and new employees.
Employees who work nights and shift work are covered by the Safety, Health and Welfare (General Application) Regulations 2007.
Do you need to carry out a risk assessment for night shift work?
Yes, you must carry out a risk assessment for anyone working night and shift work.
You should assess the following risk factors in their employment:
- Working activity.
- Shift pattern (time and duration).
- Physical environment.
- Welfare issues.
- Special hazards.
- Management issues.
Following the completion of the assessment, you may need to implement additional control measures to lessen the risk. For example, providing information about the need for proper sleep.
Do you need to carry out a health assessment for a night worker?
Yes, due to the health risks that come with night work, you must offer your employees a free health assessment.
The purpose of this is to determine whether an employee is medically fit to carry out work at nights, or has any underlying conditions that may be affected.
You should offer the assessment before employing a person as a night worker, and at regular intervals during their employment.
Can a complaint be made to the Workplace Relations Commission over night work?
Yes, if you don't provide your employees that work nights with their legal entitlements, they can make a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
Their complaint must be made within six months of the event occurring. If their claim is upheld, you may be faced with both financial and reputational damages.
Get expert advice on night work from Peninsula
If you run a business where night work is required, there are extra risks you need to be aware of. Mental strain, disruption in their family life, and increased chance in accidents to name but a few.
Failure to keep your night workers safe could lead to accidents. This means claims can be raised against you, with financial damages to pay.