What is night work?
Night work is work done between midnight and 7am. As a night worker, you have extra legal protection to keep you safe at work.
You are a night worker if you meet both these conditions:
- You normally work for at least 3 hours between midnight and 7am
- At least half of your working hours in a year are during these hours
Your working hours as a night worker are covered by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.
Night work hours and limits
In general the maximum average working week is 48 hours. As a night worker, you should not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period.
The average is calculated over either:
- A 2-month period
- A longer period if it is part of a collective agreement (for example, a trade union agreement)
Special hazards or physical or mental strain
If your night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, you cannot work more than 8 hours in a 24-hour period. Your employer must identify any special hazards or physical or mental strain in your work, assess how harmful they could be and take steps to reduce any risks.
In general, young people are not allowed to do night work. If you are under 18 you are classed as a young worker.
Exceptions to night work limits
The limits on night working hours do not usually apply to:
- Members of the Defence Forces or an Garda Síochána
- Some transport workers
- People who control their own hours (for example, freelancers)
- A family member working on a farm or in a private house
- Workers covered by alternative working time legislation (for example, junior hospital doctors)
Risks linked with night work
There are some potential risks linked with night work, including:
- Disruption of the internal body clock (circadian rhythms)
- Sleeping difficulties
- Health effects
- Increased likelihood of errors and accidents
- Disruption to family and social life
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has published a booklet, Guidance for Employers and Employees on Night and Shift Work (pdf) which looks at these risks in greater detail.
If you work in a residential healthcare setting that provides care on a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week basis, you may be required to sleep at your workplace.
A sleepover shift is when you are in work for a continuous period of 8 hours or more between 11pm and 8am. You are entitled to at least minimum wage if you work a sleepover shift, even if you are allowed to sleep between tasks.
Your health and safety rights
Your employer must take the following steps to protect your health and safety as a night worker.
As there are health risks linked with night work, your employer must offer you a free health assessment. They must offer you a health assessment before you start working at night and at regular intervals while you are a night worker.
If I become sick from working nights
If you become sick as a result of night work, your employer should move you to suitable work that does not involve night work (where possible).
If I am pregnant and working nights
If you are pregnant and a quarter of your working hours are night work, you may be exempted from doing night work. You will need your doctor to certify that night work may affect your health and safety and that of your baby. If there is no suitable alternative work you may be given health and safety leave. This also applies for up to 14 weeks after the birth of your child.
The law on health and safety
The law on health and safety for night workers is set out in Part 6 of the Safety, Health and Welfare (General Application) Regulations 2007.
How to make a complaint
You must make a complaint within 6 months of the dispute occurring. The time limit may be extended for up to 12 months if there was reasonable cause for the delay.
The Health and Safety Authority has published a booklet, Guidance for Employers and Employees on Night and Shift Work (pdf).
You can get more information on night work and your employment rights from the Workplace Relations Commission's Information and Customer Service – see below.