Excessive and unreasonable working hours can have an adverse effect on an employee’s mental and physical health. If employees are suffering from fatigue as a result of their work pattern they are more likely, through the inability to concentrate, to make mistakes which could lead to an accident. In addition, long-term excessive working hours could put undue pressure on individuals, which may lead to work-related stress. Employers should control working hours so as not to put the health of employees at risk and therefore to prevent accidents. Employers must also ensure that employees are able to make professional judgements and that this process is not impaired by any work place factors under their control.
- The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) (as amended):
Employers have a general duty to ensure that the workforce works appropriate hours with adequate rest and keep records to show that the regulations are being complied with.
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974:
Employers must provide and maintain safe systems of work, which are, so far as is reasonably practicable, without risks to health. This covers excessive working hours.
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (as amended 2005):
Employers are required to alter hours of work for disabled persons, where this is deemed to be necessary and reasonable, to ensure equal employment opportunities.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999:
Employers [are] to make suitable and sufficient assessments of risks to health and safety of young persons, new and expectant mothers and any other employee who may be classed as a vulnerable person if subjected to long working hours.
Certain phrases are used throughout the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) as defined below:
- Working time – working for an employer, carrying out his activities and duties, including periods of training. Travel to work is not classed as working time, however, and employers will need to agree to what constitutes working time for workers who travel as part of their job.
- Worker – a person undertaking any duties or activities under a contract of employment whether this is in writing or verbal. This might be a person who is paid a salary or where someone works under a different contract of employment, where, for example, the employer provides the worker with equipment and health and safety controls to do the job and pays the worker’s tax and national insurance contributions.
- Young person/worker – in England and Wales, a worker who is over the compulsory minimum school leaving age and under the age of 18 years, and in Scotland over the school leaving age.
Enforcement of the WTR is split between two authorities as follows:
- Health and Safety Executive (and others for specific industries) will enforce legal working limits.
- Employment Tribunals will enforce the entitlements for rest periods and annual leave.
Legal limits provide the rights for people at work. They also cover those who work for an agency who may have a different type of contract. Legal limits differ for adults and young persons and are specified as follows:
- Weekly working time:
- Adults – maximum of 48 hours in each 7-day period averaged over a 17-week period. This limit will cover most dental professionals. However, this can be extended to a 26-week period in certain circumstances, most of which are likely to be irrelevant in dentistry.
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