IOSH working hours policy

IOSH fully recognises the positive benefits to health and wellbeing that rewarding and well-managed employment can bring, including the proper management of working time. This is important, as working excessive hours can seriously harm workers’ health and wellbeing, safety and performance.

We believe that occupational safety and health practitioners can provide valuable advice to managers to help ensure that working time arrangements do not comprise the health and safety of workers and others.

The facts

  • The Working Time regulations 1998 implement the European Working Time Directive in the UK and allow individuals to 'opt-out' of weekly working time limits.
  • Further Directives were adopted to accommodate working time measures in air, rail road, sea, inland waterway and lake transport, sea fishing, offshore work and doctors in training. Since 2009 the weekly working time limit for junior doctors has been 48 hours.
  • Workers should not work over 48 hours a week on average, unless they choose to, or work in a sector with its own rules. Working excessive hours can be linked to poor health and have a negative impact on relationships and performance.
  • It has been estimated that 22% of the global workforce, or 614 million workers, work more than 48 hours per week. In the UK the Office for National Statistics identified that 27.8% of men and 9.7% women worked over 45 hours a week. (2011).

Our position

IOSH fully recognises the positive benefits to health and wellbeing that rewarding and well-managed employment can bring, including the proper management of working time. This is important, as working excessive hours can seriously harm workers’ health and wellbeing, safety and performance. We believe that occupational safety and health practitioners can provide valuable advice to managers to help ensure that working time arrangements do not comprise the health and safety of workers and others.  

Our view is that a code of practice would be more persuasive than guidance in helping ensure good health and safety practice from any employers who may not be inclined to otherwise adopt it. Also, that health assessment entitlement offered to night shift workers should be offered to all those working consistently long hours too, supported by adequate occupational health advice.

We do not think employers should be able to include an opt out clause when giving new employees their employment contracts, as workers need to make considered and free choices on this. We urge employers to make sure employees who choose to opt out of the 48 hour limit are aware that they can cancel their agreement at any time with at least 7 days’ notice (or longer if so agreed).

We emphasise that working hours should be monitored and properly managed, so that employers can help workers achieve a healthy work-life balance. We advocate the benefits of flexible working arrangements, both for the employer and the employee, which can include arrangements such as remote working, flexi-time or job-sharing.

Relevant IOSH consultation responses