Four of South Yorkshire’s 21 fire stations use a system called ‘Close Proximity Crewing’ (CPC), which entails a four day shift, being on call at night meaning firefighters working 96 hours of continuous duty. Crew members are provided with accommodation and recreational facilities, and are allowed family visitors during stand-down time.
In R (on the application of Fire Brigades Union) v South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority  the Fire Brigade’s Union (FBU) brought an application for judicial review in a bid to challenge the 'unlawful shift pattern' on the grounds that the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority would be breaching its obligations as the employer of firefighters under the Working Time Regulations 1998 under CPC. The regulations state that workers should get 11 hours' worth of continuous breaks during every 24-hour period.
The FBU claims the long shifts pose a threat to safety due to an increased risk of fatigue due to being on duty for such a lengthy period. The same system, or variants of it, are also used by around a quarter of other fire and rescue services.
The High Court granted a declaration that the CPC shift pattern was contrary to the firefighters' rights under regulation 10 of the Working Time Regulations 1998.
With the judge ruling: "You cannot perform one legal duty by breaching another."
Regulations around working time is top of the agenda currently, with cases such as Ville de Nivelles v Matzak and South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue v Mansell bringing to the fore front the contrasting issues employers face with regard to the EU Working Time Regulations.
As mentioned in previous e-zines, this case is still particularly relevant to employers looking to introduce a new system of work, in an attempt to achieve cost savings and flexibility. Employers should ensure that any proposed shift pattern is compliant with the Working Time Regulations, especially as a breach may result in additional cost implications.