This section provides summary information about working time limits and health assessments for night workers.
Comprehensive guidance on the Working Time Regulations 1998 can be found on two web-sites:
Directgov for workers or employees:
Business Link - Hours, rest breaks and working hours for employers and businesses:
Enforcement of work time limits and health assessments
Enforcement of work time limits and of health assessments for night workers is split between different authorities: Health and Safety Executive, local authorities (in premises where they enforce health and safety at work), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA),the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).
Work time limits
You should not have to work more than 48 hours a week on average, unless you choose to, or work in a sector with its own special rules. Your normal working hours should be set out in your contract of employment or written statement of employment particulars.
The Regulations include provision for workers to voluntarily opt out.
Opting out of the 48 hour week
If you are 18 or over and wish to work more than 48 hours a week, you can choose to opt out of the 48 hour limit. This must be voluntary and in writing. It can't be an agreement with the whole workforce and you shouldn't be sacked or unfairly treated (for example refused promotion or overtime) for refusing to sign an opt-out.
If you sign an opt-out, you have the right to cancel this agreement at any time by giving between one week and three months' notice. You can agree this notice period with your employer when you sign the opt-out. If no notice period is agreed then you only need to give one week’s notice of cancellation. You can cancel an opt-out even if it's part of a contract you have signed.
Night time is defined as the period between 23.00 and 06.00 hours. A night worker is a person whose shift routinely covers at least 3 hours of night time.
As a night worker, you should not work more than an average of eight hours in each 24-hour period. This excludes overtime. You cannot opt out of this night working limit.
If your night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, you can't be made to work more than eight hours in any 24-hour period.
This is an absolute limit rather than an average limit and includes daytime overtime. With absolute limits you cannot work over eight hours in any 24-hour period. Average limits allow you to average the hours you work over a set period. For example, one night you work nine hours, the next night you work seven, averaging out at eight hours.
Your employer should identify any hazards in your work, assess how harmful they could be and take steps to reduce any risks.
There are separate special rules for workers in air, sea and road transport.
Night worker health assessment
All night workers must be offered a health assessment before they start working nights and on a regular basis thereafter. Workers do not have to agree to a health assessment, but it must be offered.
A sample health questionnaire can be found on the Business Link website.
Records must be kept to prove that work time limits are being complied with, and that requirements for night time workers are being complied with. The records must be retained for at least two years after they are made.
Follow the link above for information about rest breaks and so on. These aspects are not enforced by local authorities. Remedy for problems relating to rest breaks, daily rest and weekly rest is by way of complaint to an Employment Tribunal.