Firefighters' shift pattern breached Working Time Regulations

The High Court has ruled that a 96-hour shift pattern for firefighters was unlawful because it breached the Working Time Regulations 1998.

The case involved firefighters employed by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. The authority operated a shift system called "close proximity crewing" (CPC).

It involved a working week of 96 hours of continuous duty, other than during brief respite periods that followed if a firefighter was called out between midnight and 8am.

The Fire Brigades Union contended that CPC was unlawful because it could not operate without the employer breaching its obligations under the Working Time Regulations.

The court ruled in the union’s favour. It held that the firefighters who worked in CPC shifts were "night workers" doing "night work" for the purposes of the regulations.

It was clear that where CPC shifts were worked, the limit of eight hours was exceeded. A CPC shift required up to 96 hours of continuous duty, made up of 11-hour "on the station" day shifts (from 8.00 until 19.00) followed by a 13-hour night "on call" night shifts (from 19:00 to 8:00).

The fact that on the night shift the firefighters might be asleep or relaxing at the fire station did not mean they were not on "working time".

The court granted a declaration that the CPC shift pattern was unlawful.

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