Operational guidance for assessing management of shift work and fatigue and policy for working hours offshore



This SPC introduces Offshore Information Sheet 7/2008 Operational guidance for assessing management of shift work and fatigue offshore1 and Offshore Information Sheet 8/2008 Policy on working hours offshore2 and provides guidance for inspectors regarding the regulation and inspection of shift working and working hours offshore. HSE's general guidance on shift work is contained in HSG 256 and inspector's are advised to familiarise themselves with HSG 256 so that they can understand the relationship between the guidance on shift work offshore and onshore. Operations Notice 65 Terms and Conditions of Employment. The Working Time Regulations - Extension offshore, has been updated to reflect the publication of this new guidance. Note that HSG 256 will also be subject to review in 2013.


The information sheets provides advice on good practice approaches to shift working and setting polices for working hours in the offshore industry. While it is intended to be used in conjunction with HSE's generic guidance on shift work this document provides specific advice relating to working practices in the UK offshore sector that fall outside the scope of the generic guidance.

The regulation and control of shift work and working hours

In common with most UK industrial work situations and, unlike the rail and aviation sectors, shift working and hours worked offshore have not been subject to prescriptive regulation. However health and safety legislation has always required a consideration of human limitations when managing hazards and operating a safe system of work. The Working Time Directive (WTD) marked a departure from this situation. The Working Time Regulations that implemented the WTD in the UK have not had a major impact offshore as the "basic" 2 weeks on/2 weeks off schedule with 2 weeks leave is WTR compliant. The 3 weeks on 2 weeks off rotation leads to a work pattern that more than meets the WTD requirements when averaged over the year.

Despite the  complex relationship between individuals, tasks, working hours and organisations, two simple limits can be stated with some confidence:

  • A maximum of 12 hours continuous work, particularly when there are significant physical or cognitive demands.
  • A minimum of 6 hours uninterrupted sleep.

Both of these specific limitations are supported by a considerable weight of evidence and probably relate to fundamental features of human performance.

The "equal time" rule of providing a number of days shore rest equal to the tour length is a matter of industry custom and practice and not enshrined in regulations. While abuse of the equal time arrangement is not widespread,  There is one area where the WRT may yet be important;  when onshore workers make occasional trips offshore.  There are no ready guidelines for this situation and each year OSD receives calls from workers in onshore support organisations who have been asked to work a 2 week tour offshore then return to onshore duties after only 2 days rest.  Despite these calls it has proven very difficult to collect the necessary evidence as none of these callers has been prepared to make a formal complaint or identify their employer  It would appear that the activities in which these problems occur include wire-line, specialist test equipment, habitat construction and specialist welding.  Each situation will need to be examined in detail, however any employer sending staff offshore should have a working hours and rest policy, is covered by the WTR onshore and their staff must be in the Vantage system.

While the WTR require the annual hours to be spread over the year, in practice this can be compressed into an intensive 6 month period. While this is counter to the WTD, industry and HSE guidance complaints indicate that it does occur in activities such as construction offshore where it increases productivity during the summer weather window and has proved difficult to identify and prevent. The situation in both the Norwegian and Dutch sectors is quite different with both having firmly regulated tour lengths and off-duty periods. The best advice is that duty holders maintain a record of hours worked. Failure to record hours should be considered a breach of the WTR as the duty holder would be unable to demonstrate compliance in the absence of such records.

Many of the Duty Holders for the UKCS are based or operate in the USA.  The American Petroleum Institute (API) has produced recommended practice (RP) 755 : Fatigue Prevention Guidelines for the Refining and Petrochemical Industries. The creation of this RP was a US Government requirement after the Texas City disaster.  In essence API RP755 requires operators to have in place an effective Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS).  While HSE does not fully support some of the allowable hours in the guidelines for PR 755 we do fully support the requirement for an FRMS.  Many US based operators will make API compliance a core part of their SMS and so this RP is having a visible impact on working practices. and it is legitimate to ask any US based DH about their FRMS and API RP755 compliance.

The UK Government has included the WTD in a list areas where it seeks to repatriate powers. The outcome of this is not clear but it is possible that in the offshore sector API RP755 and FRMS could become more influential than the WTR.

Inspectors must remember:

HSE's objectives in assessing shift work and working hours are to ensure, so far as these factors can, that employees are awake, alert and healthy and in a fit state to undertake their duties safely with regard to occupational and major hazards.

In doing this consideration has to be made of both the demands of working hours and the duration and quality of resting hours. For this reason the approach taken here is not dependent on regulations related to working hours but is based instead on existing Health and Safety Regulations that require:

  • 1. A safe system of work"
  • 2. That risks be reduced to "ALARP"
  • 3. The management of health and safety
  • 4. A duty of care towards employees

This leads naturally to the approach based around Safety Management Systems (SMS) and risk assessment described in information sheet 8/2008.

Where it has become common practice to schedule 12 hours work over 14 or 16, in the event of an accident, inspectors should seek evidence of the hours actually worked.

Inspectors should alert duty holders to the hazards of allowing deliberate violations of corporate process to become embedded as these can undermine wider attempts to promote procedural compliance and a positive safety culture.


  1. Operational guidance for assessing management of shift work and fatigue offshore. Back to reference of footnote 1
  2. Policy on working hours offshore. Back to reference of footnote 2
  3. HSG256 Managing shift work HSE Books 2006 ISBN 0 7176 6197 8
  4. The Working Time Regulations 1998 SI 1998/1833
  5. The Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2003 SI 2003/1684
  6. Working Time Directive (93/104/EC)

Further information

OSD 4.8, Priestly House, Basingstoke.

Is this page useful?

Updated 02.02.11