So we know the famous [Beatles] song, but with 3.5 million people in the UK doing shift work, including working through the night, are there any risks to employees and should the law afford night workers more protection?
A recent study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that night working has grown as a result of the recession. Whilst it is still the case that night workers are more likely to be men, the number of women working nights is increasing at a faster rate due to the fact that the two top night-working sectors are female dominated (care working and nursing).
This teamed with the government's proposals to provide more public transport through the night and a seven-day NHS means that night-working will undoubtedly continue to increase in the coming years.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 contain special provisions for 'night workers' (those that work for at least three hours between the hours of 23:00 and 06:00) which limit the length of their shifts and require employers to offer night workers regular health assessments.
But is this enough? What are the real risks involved in night working and what are the effects on an individual's health?
Studies carried out show that those working for long periods during the night are more likely to suffer from a range of serious diseases and illnesses which include cancer, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and depression.
The negative effect night work can have on an individual's personal life (as well their professional life) is also a documented issue, adding pressure on relationships, creating childcare issues and impacting on an individual's emotional and physical wellbeing.
Employers have a duty of care to their workers which needs to be applied even more diligently in respect of night workers. The human body clock is designed to be awake during daylight hours and to sleep at night. Therefore, the overriding difficulty for those who night-work is to adapt to the change meaning that they are potentially at more risk than other workers.
So what can employers do to minimise the risks associated with night work? The TUC has recently provided guidance in its recent study 'A Hard Day's Night' which includes:
- ensuring that night working is only introduced where absolutely necessary. Workers should not be pressured into working nights
- ideally workers should have some element of control over their rota, so that they can work shifts that are a best suited to them and their individual circumstances
- workers should be given notice of their night shift well in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Changes at short notice should be avoided
- work patterns should be negotiated between the employer and the individual/union
- remuneration paid to those working nights should properly reflect the likely additional costs of childcare and inconvenience that night shifts can entail
Whilst not mandatory, the above guidance is helpful to note and may assist employers in balancing the commercial needs of the business and the requirement, in some cases, to work around the clock, with ensuring their employees' health, safety and wellbeing.