Accident due to excessive working hours – the responsibility of employer?

by BirkettsLaw on December 21, 2012

With the economic climate causing huge amounts of job losses, it’s little wonder that those lucky enough to have secure, full-time work are keen to hold on to their position.

But with the advantage clearly lying with the employer, many workers are being pushed to do more and more just to hang on to what they have.

In many cases this includes working excessively long hours – not just the odd extra 15 minutes here and there. But if you have an accident because you have been pushed to breaking point by a demanding employer, whose fault is it?

This article examines the various points to consider.

The impact

Many people have gone through periods in their life where they have worked for longer than they normally would. Whether it’s to earn a bit of overtime to pay for something, or it’s a second job, there’s no doubt that extra hours per week take their toll on mind and body.

When this is sustained over a long period of time, this can become intolerable and if there is no end in sight, mental exhaustion can easily set in.

Those who feel compelled to work longer hours than normal in order to keep their employer happy or to stand a better chance of keeping their job put themselves at risk in many different ways.

Fatigue can cause accidents as easily as a slippery floor

Numerous studies dating back to the 1950s have shown that regularly working more than eight hours per day increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, meaning you could be unnecessarily exposing yourself to a heart attack or a stroke. And the increase is significant; some studies have shown the risk rises by as much as 80%.

Researchers also discovered that long working hours affect the body to the same degree as smoking, and not just for heart disease. Spending excessive time at work heightens the risk of dementia later in life, in the same way that puffing on a cigarette does.

But of course, long term damage is only one of the problems workers could face; in the shorter term they will be significantly at risk of having an accident.

Excessive working hours often leads to less exercise and poor eating habits, all contributory factors to physical and mental fatigue. And with reaction times slower, and concentration impaired, it’s little wonder that those spending too long at work are more likely to be involved in an accident.

Your employer’s responsibility

Any employer has a duty of care towards their workers, regardless of whether the company is big or small.

Employers are legally obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their staff, and this extends to not just equipment and machinery, but also policies and procedures…which includes excessive working hours.

Health and safety is taken very seriously by authorities and a disregard for employee’s safety is viewed dimly. This includes failure to safeguard the health of staff by implementing long or irregular working hours.

You can agree to work longer hours for your employer but you are also permitted to cancel this agreement at any time. You cannot be forced to agree to longer working hours because a group vote was taken; employers must secure the agreement of the individual in writing so there can be no misunderstanding.

Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion

Determining the blame

Of course, not every accident which occurs in the workplace will be the employer’s fault but for those cases where workers have to continue with their duties long than could reasonably be expected to be at least partially blamed on the employer.

One of the first things to consider is whether the Working Time Regulations 1998 has been breached. This directive states that every employer is entitled to 28 paid days off per year, with no more than a 48 hour average working week limit. In addition, every worker is entitled to a 24 hour complete rest every week plus at least 11 hours off in any 24 hours. This includes time spent on-call if the individual is available for work during this period.

There are some exceptions to the Regulations, so it’s worth checking in full if you believe your employer breached their responsibilities. If they are in breach, you may bring a civil claim against them for any losses, damage or injuries as a result.


Employers have a lot of responsibility towards their staff and making sure an employee’s remain in good health and aren’t exposed to any risks whilst in the workplace are two of the most important duties a company has. Hazards come in many forms, not just wet floors, wobbly ladders and uneven paving. And if your employer is forcing you to work excessive hours and you have an accident as a result, you are within your rights to bring a case against them.

Image credits: shipinthenight and stjnky

About the author: Sally Wiggins, professional writer in different legal topics, including employer law, contesting wills, copyright law and immigration issues. Sally has been working on many different project to ensure her understanding of legal topics is up-to-date.



Sally Reynolds of Birketts law helps out the Norwich solicitor company to give advice on different aspects of law.

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