The Finnish Working Hours Act defines night work as work carried out between the hours of 11.00 pm and 6.00 am. In the context of shift work and period-based work, night work refers to shifts of which at least three hours take place between the hours of 11.00 pm and 6.00 am.
Night work is only permitted in certain sectors of the economy or in specific situations. Collective agreements can lay down further restrictions or provide for a wider range of circumstances in which night work is permitted. Young people (under 18 years of age) are generally not permitted to work at night.
Assessing risks associated with night work
Night work is both physically and psychologically more draining than daytime work. Night work usually requires employees to stay awake for extended periods of time and can disturb their sleep patterns. Long night shifts can increase fatigue and the risk of accidents.
The ability to adapt to night work can vary considerably from one employee to another. The workloads of night workers depend not only on their personal characteristics but also on factors such as their family and the length of their commute to work.
The harmful effects of night work need to be factored into risk assessments and analyses. Issues to take into consideration include, among others, the number and length of consecutive night shifts and the amount of time that employees get off afterwards. If night work cannot be avoided altogether, it is the employer’s responsibility to evaluate the impact of night work on their employees’ health and safety.
Occupational health care professionals can be consulted, if necessary. The risks associated with night work are also assessed and analysed in connection with the occupational health care provider’s workplace survey.
Ways to reduce the harmful effects of night work
Employers can use the findings of risk assessments to plan ways to reduce the harmful effects that night work can have on employees’ health. They can, for example, reduce the amount of work performed at night, introduce shorter night shifts, reduce the number of consecutive night shifts that each employee can work, and make sure that employees have enough time to recover after a night shift. Other ways to reduce the harmful effects of night work include training and educating employees on how to keep up their energy levels by means of a proper diet and exercise.
Sometimes the only way to protect an employee from the harmful effects of night work is to assign them to other duties that can be performed in the daytime. This kind of reassignment can be temporary if, for example, the employee is pregnant or undergoing medical treatment, or permanent.
The opportunities for reassignment or rescheduling employees’ shifts vary depending on the size of the organisation. Larger employers are usually able to provide more flexibility. Employees do not have an absolute right to refuse night work. Employers are advised to ask their occupational health care provider’s opinion on whether an employee should be reassigned.
Monitoring of the harmful effects of night work on health
Night work can increase the risk of illness. Employees who work nights are entitled to a health examination at their employer’s expense when they first take up night work and at regular intervals thereafter.
Mealtimes during night shifts
Employers have a duty to provide their employees with an opportunity to eat during long night shifts, if a break can be arranged without unreasonable difficulty. Pursuant to the Finnish Working Hours Act, employees who work more than six hours in a 24-hour period are entitled to a one-hour break. A shorter break, albeit no shorter than 30 minutes, can also be agreed.
The need to provide for mealtimes at night can arise, for example, in connection with shift work if employees work the same number of hours in a shift both during the daytime and at night. There are also situations in which it is not necessary or possible to provide for meal breaks, such as in the case of temporary or quick jobs performed at night or employees with no fixed workplace.
Depending on the workplace, the opportunity for eating at work can also be arranged in another way, such as by providing a microwave oven. Employers have the right to charge for meals, as long as the charge does not exceed what is typical of workplace canteens.
- Section 26 – Night work
- Section 10 – Analysis and assessment of the risks at work
- Section 30 – Night work
- Section 7 – Performing a medical examination
- Section 10 – The content of advice and guidance
- Section 2 – Special risk of illness
- Section 4 – Medical examination
- Section 8 – List of examples: factors causing a special risk of illness
- Section 7 – Distribution of working hours