Working Hours are not Excessive


Why tackle the issue of working hours?

The business case and what can go wrong

  • 4 million people in the UK work more than 48 hours per week (17% of UK employees). UK workers work the longest usual hours in Europe yet UK productivity is ranked 12th. [1]
  • 1 in 4 workers in the UK working long hours reported suffering a physical ailment or stress as a result of working long hours [2]
  • An estimated 1.3 billion working days are lost each year through stress related illness, costing UK employers £1.24 billion per year[3]

Media stories exposing poor working conditions on UK farms often emphasise the long hours worked. A story published in the Independent in July 2006 reported allegations that migrant workers on a strawberry farms in Herefordshire and Kent were working up to 14 hours a day and others were earning just £13 for a 12 hour shift. The company strenuously denied the allegations.

Workers working long hours are less productive, less efficient and more likely to make mistakes. It is often the case that people pick or pack more slowly in overtime hours and, if you pay overtime premiums, work done in overtime hours will cost you more. High levels of overtime working threaten worker welfare. Exhausted workers are much more likely to work slowly, make mistakes, have accidents and fall ill. All these have a direct impact on your ability to deliver to your customers.


What can go wrong?

You can be held responsible for accidents that happen as a result of workers working excessive hours

In a landmark case in July 2006, a Cambridgeshire potato company was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £24,000 costs for breaching health and safety legislation, after one of its workers died in a car crash on his way home from work. This is the first such verdict where the worker died outside business hours and away from company premises.

The Health & Safety Executive took the company to court following the death of a tractor driver, aged 21, in a car crash, after he worked 76 hours in four days. The solicitor in the case warned: "Long hours, especially when coupled with other occupational hazards, such as poor light, heat and noise, can lead to stress and depression, disrupted biological rhythms and disturbed sleeping and eating patterns. These factors increase the risk of injury and, as this case showed, even death.

"I would now urge Cambridgeshire businesses to keep written records of hours worked by employees and continually monitor these. They should also carry out risk assessments for potentially hazardous tasks, taking into account any adverse reactions undertaking them over a long period might cause."

"Even in cases where employees ask to work extra hours for personal or financial reasons, managers need to be aware of their limits. It's more important than ever now that businesses ensure health and safety are not compromised by an undue emphasis on productivity and profitability.

"Failure to implement such a policy could prove highly expensive, with unlimited fines in the crown court, and may cause severe damage to a company's reputation, given that being found out is almost certain to generate bad publicity."

[1] Trade Union Congress Report on UK working Hours 2004

[2] Living to work survey, 2003 IPD

[3] HSE & Personnel Today survey of 700 companies

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