2 min read

5 tips to manage overtime to reduce health and safety risk

By Joanna Weekes

We recently had a question sent to the Health & Safety Helpdesk that seems to be a recurring theme for many of our subscribers – the question of maximum hours you can request a worker to work in regard to their health and safety.

Since it seems to pop up quite often, I thought I’d share the answer from our lawyers with you today…

What is the maximum number of hours that a worker can be asked to work in a week?

And the answer from our expert…

Health and safety legislation does not prescribe maximum working hours, although under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), the maximum ordinary hours for full-time workers is 38 hours per week (or an average of 38 hours per week, where permissible under a modern award or EBA).

Outside of a worker’s ordinary hours, they can be requested to work ‘reasonable’ additional hours and/or overtime depending on the terms of an applicable industrial instrument or their employment contract which you will need to check.

One of the factors relevant in determining whether a request to work additional hours is reasonable is whether there is any risk to the worker’s health and safety. In this regard, while there is no clear answer from a safety perspective as to the number of “reasonable” additional hours and/or overtime that a worker can work, you should carefully monitor the hours worked by your workers to ensure that the hours are not excessive and do not pose health and safety risks (to the workers or others). For example, if your workers are fatigued, this can create a considerable risk, particularly if they are required to operate machinery or vehicles, work in or around hazards and/or supervise others.

You may also wish to consider implementing a policy requiring staff to only work beyond a certain number of hours with supervisor approval, and other measures if necessary to alleviate the need for staff to work longer hours, such as rotating or increasing the number of staff.

In summary, use these tips to reduce the risk of overtime in your workplace:

  • check any relevant industrial instrument (e.g. modern award, NES) or employment contract for stipulations about requesting a worker to work additional hours or overtime;
  • determine whether your request for the worker to work additional hours is reasonable;
  • monitor the hours worked by your workers to ensure they are not excessive and do not pose a health and safety risk to the worker or others (e.g. risk of fatigue);
  • develop and implement a policy which stipulates the number of hours your workers may work and ensures that any additional hours or overtime worked is with approval of supervisors or management; and
  • develop and implement procedures that manage the risks that may arise from your workers working longer hours (e.g. shift rotation, increasing the number of workers, training workers in fatigue management, implementing shift handover processes, etc).

If you are a subscriber to the Health & Safety Handbook, you have access to the Health & Safety Helpdesk service! Take advantage of this amazing service by sending your health and safety query or confusion to [email protected] and get a response from our experts within a couple of days.

But remember, you have to be a subscriber to use the helpdesk so if you haven’t yet heard about how it can help you, find out more about the Health & Safety Handbook here.

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