What are the Working Time Regulations 1998?

 The Working Time Regulations 1998 put limits on the number of hours that an employee should work each week and defines minimum rest periods between shifts.

An employer must take all reasonable steps - in order to fulfil their legal duty to protect the health and safety of employees - to comply with the regulations. In addition, employers must keep records to demonstrate compliance.

Successful tiredness-related injury claims have been made in circumstances where an employer has breached this duty of care.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 implement the EU's Working Time Directive 1993. Split into six parts, Part II of the WTR deals with the main rights and obligations concerning working time.

The legislation also includes specific provisions regarding night shift work. Evidence of an employer's breach of these provisions may support a night shift injury claim.

What are the key provisions of the Working Time Regulations?

Working hours, rest and time off

According to Part II of the regulations, an adult worker (over 18 years of age):

  • should not work for more than 48 hours a week - normally averaged over a 17 week period
  • is entitled to a rest period of not less than 11 consecutive hours in 24 hours
  • is entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of not less than 24 hours a week - can be averaged over 2 weeks
  • who works for more than 6 hours, is entitled to a rest break of no less than 20 minutes
  • is entitled to a maximum of 28 days annual leave (which they can take with permission from their employer; for which they must be paid; and for which they must be compensated if not taken and they leave)

Different limits apply to workers under 18 years. Young workers are entitled to: 12 consecutive hours off in 24 hours; a period of 48 hours off per week; and 30 minutes break after 4.5 hours work.

Opting out of the 48 hour week

Adult workers can choose, with agreement from their employer, to opt out of the 48 hour week. It must be voluntary and in writing. An employer can also ask a worker to opt out. However, they cannot enforce it or threaten to sack if refused.

Certain workers cannot opt out. These include: airline staff; workers on ships or boats; and workers in the road transport industry (exceptions apply for certain driving jobs).

Night-work

Part II also includes specific guidance for night workers who, due to unsociable hours, are presented with additional health risks. To comply with the regulations employers must ensure that:

  • a night workers normal hours do not exceed an average of 8 hours for each 24 - normally averaged over 17 weeks
  • all potential night workers are given a free health assessment (unless one already exists)
  • all night workers are given regular health assessments
  • if a worker is deemed not suitable for night work, that they give them alternative day work where possible

It is stipulated for night workers whose activities involve special hazards or heavy physical activities or mental strain, they do not exceed the 8 hours in 24 hour requirement.

Are the Working Time Regulations enforced?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforce the maximum weekly working time limit, night work limits and health assessments for night work. They do not enforce time off, rest break entitlements or paid annual leave entitlements.

However, an employer must carefully assess the risk of not adhering to rest periods. For example, where work is monotonous or work-rate predetermined, leading to greater risk, an employer must ensure adequate breaks are given.

Do the time limits apply to all jobs and industries?

No. There are some instances in which the time limits set out in the Working Time Regulations do not apply:

  • where 24-hour staffing is required
  • in the armed forces, emergency services or police
  • in security and surveillance
  • as a domestic servant in a private household
  • as a seafarer, sea-fisherman or worker on vessels on inland waterways
  • where working time is not measured and the worker is in control, e.g. a managing executive

Does travel time count as working time?

A European Court of Justice ruling in September 2015 clarified how the WTR applied to certain mobile workers.

If a worker does not have a fixed office, such as a care worker who travels to patients' homes, then the time that the worker spends travelling to their first job of the day, and the time travelling home after the worker's last job of the day, both now count as working time.

In general, however, travel time is not counted as working time unless it is actually part of a work activity. An office worker's commute, for example, is not recognised as working time.

Working time includes any time to which a worker is at an employer's disposal, periods in which the worker is receiving training and any additional period agreed prior.

Breaches of the Working Time Regulations and personal injury claims

If you have been injured in an accident at work that was caused in part by an employee's fatigue (or other consequences of a breach of the WTR), you may be able to claim compensation. You may be able to claim if your tiredness contributed to the accident.

To discuss your options, call 0800 612 7456 to speak to a claims specialist. Alternatively, you can request a callback at a more convenient time.