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I work as lead instructor for a high ropes course. Obviously, it's a safety-critical position - I'm responsible for the safety of both our customers and my team. The problem I'm having is that we don't get allocated sufficient break time - but I can't see an easy way to extend it without making people's jobs unnecessarily more difficult.

Over the summer, most people working on a given day will commonly work 9-10 hour shifts, with the lead and managers more likely to work 11-12 hours. Over the whole shift, the only break we are allocated by management is a 20-minute lunch break. I am able to let people go on extra breaks once lunches are finished, if I need to, but this isn't expected to be a regular thing - mostly reserved for the really long days, like summer Saturdays. Some thoughts:

  • This is the UK. Technically, a break this short over a shift of this length is illegal - I'm not 100% sure, but I believe the minimum is 30 minutes every 8 hours.
  • Because we have to maintain as many staff available to monitor the course as possible, only one person can take their break at any one time (of 7 or 8 instructors on duty). That means that with 20 minute breaks, it takes almost 3 hours to get everyone through lunch - increasing this to 30 minutes would mean taking 4 hours. Since we start sending people for lunch at 12, this would mean the lead (who goes last) doesn't get lunch until 3.30 or 4.00, which isn't much fun.
  • I am not a manager, and I don't have the authority to change this myself. I need to work out a solution with the manager and deputy. They know we only get 20 minutes but I don't know if they're aware that's illegal. I'm sort-of, low-level management - only in that I'm a lead, rather than an instructor. I don't make the decisions. I'm also not legally liable, beyond gross negligence on my part.
  • Winter shifts are obviously shorter, as we close before dark. That means it's not as much of a problem over winter - at the very least that length of break is legal - but not getting lunch until 4 is still not fun.

As outdoor instructors, we're all relatively young and physically this isn't a problem. It does, however, make me a touch concerned that our staff aren't getting enough of a break to continue to be effective when they return, which has safety implications that I'd rather not find myself dealing with.

Are there obvious ways to solve this that I'm missing?

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    Obviously, this would be a management decision, but it may be better to declare and announce an official lunch time, during which the course will be shut down. – Patricia Shanahan Nov 20 '17 at 15:30
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    The most obvious thing which occurs to me (but which may not be available to you) is: hire more people... TBH considering the safety-critical nature of the problem you're trying so solve, it's either this, or reduce the size of the course so that it can be effectively monitored by fewer people. – brhans Nov 20 '17 at 15:31
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    Related, but not duplicate: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/94791/… – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Nov 20 '17 at 16:18
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    For anyone who, like myself, has never encountered the term before, a "high ropes course" is apparently one of these things. – terdon Nov 21 '17 at 14:24
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    @YetAnotherRandomUser I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm not entirely sure sharing the exact location I work at is a great idea :) – ArtOfCode Jul 25 '18 at 23:22
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People who don't get adequate breaks tend to not pay attention to their job as well. People who are really hungry also don't pay attention well.

This is an accident waiting to happen.

As Patricia Shanahan pointed out in a comment, you can fix the lunch issue by closing the course for a short time while everyone eats lunch.

As for the other breaks, to cover 8 30 minute breaks means you need another 4 hours of coverage. Hire at least one more instructor (what do you do if someone calls in sick?).

Both of these cost money, but tell your management to think of it as insurance against someone getting hurt or them being held accountable for violating labor laws (I'm not sure about that last bit - I'm not in the UK)

They might have to increase the prices on the course a little bit to cover the extra costs, but it's money well spent.

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    I want to reiterate the safety aspect. I'm a ski patroller, and one of the big things we're told is to take regular breaks and snack throughout the day, precisely because people who are tired or hungry don't pay attention as well as they should, and can easily miss big problems. If you're watching a high ropes course, a big problem could easily lead to multiple people dying, and I can guarantee that your management would rather pay an extra few quid a day (or lose a few quid to brief closures) than pay the millions for a lawsuit. Not to mention your own, personal liability – Nic Hartley Nov 20 '17 at 19:54
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    Guaranteed if someone gets hurt, it doesn't matter how many wavers the client signed - if the victim's lawyers can show that the instructor didn't get the legally mandated break times, not only will they be permitted to sue, but the venue's insurance company might decline to cover the claim too! – corsiKa Nov 21 '17 at 0:16
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    @corsiKa - exactly. To be covered by insurance they must be able to demonstrate that they are following applicable guidance from industry standards to government regulations. If they fail to do that, their insurance company will happily step out of the picture, likely leaving personal liability on the venue's management. – Jon Custer Nov 21 '17 at 15:32
  • Might also be worthwhile to start offering free granola bars to the staff or something - food that the instructors can wolf down rapidly to keep the blood sugar up. It would solve half of the "no breaks plus no food harms alertness" issue at a pretty low price, and serves as a nice cheap-but-appreciated benefit for the low-level employees as well. – Ben Barden Jun 12 at 21:02
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First, lets get this out of the way: It's not illegal, just the absolute minimum they can legally get away with. UK Law mandates one 20-minute rest if working more than a 6 hour day, even if the shift is 12 hours long:

https://www.gov.uk/rest-breaks-work

So what should you do?

The only thing you can: Politely make management aware of your concerns (as they may well already be fully aware of the problem). Do it in writing.

As others have pointed out there are alternatives, but ones that cost.

I have never seen a caring employer offer the bare minimum, not even any rest breaks (having two is 'normal' in the UK) for such a long and safety critical role, so if they are open to change you can offer alternatives, but if they refuse you may eventually want the paper trail.

Aside from the alternatives offered by others, if appropriate you could suggest a rolling shift start time so that while the breaks are more widely spread, it feels better.

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    @Joe Strazzere Its not about illegality, so much as if something happens under their watch, such as a serious injury to the climber, and the company try and make them the fall guy. – David Nov 21 '17 at 8:10
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The typical way this is handled is either:

  1. Stagger shifts so not everyone comes in a the same time, and therefore breaks aren't concurrent. If you have two instructors starting at 8am, 2 at 9am, 2 at 10am, and 2 at 11am, then you can have a half hour break for each person from 12pm-4pm and everyone has their break about halfway through their shift.
  2. Hire break coverage. If you must have all 8 people start at 8am, and you need 8 people for every time period, it's fairly straightforward: have 2 more people do a 11am-2pm shift. Or have 2 people work 8am-2pm and 2 people work 11am-6pm and then the other 6 people work 8am-6pm (or whatever). That gives you 10 people from 11am-2pm, where you can take those 6 people working full shifts and give them breaks. Breaks would be something like

    • 8am-2pm folks have breaks at 11-11:30
    • 8am-6pm folks have breaks from 11:30 to 1:00 (3 half hour break periods, 2 in each)
    • 11am-6pm folks have breaks from 1:30-2:00 (or one each in the 1:00-2:00 period)

That gives you the most flexibility while still having full coverage (8 people at all times). You could then even add a bit of extra breaks if you wanted to (as if you really only need 7 people out there at once, you now can have a single person on break at any time, to allow smoke breaks or similar).

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This is a bit obvious, but you mention one of your objections to longer breaks is how late some people will eat. The simplest solution to this problem is to start sending people for their breaks sooner - say if you start sending people at 11, the last break would be about the same time as it is now despite the extra hour it would take for rotation. You could have longer breaks, or extra breaks, by extending the window you're willing to have seven people working.

Another problem is that your management doesn't want to spend money - as hiring more people is, as others have commented, a rather obvious solution. I'm not sure how your workplace does it, but where I am the mandated breaks are often unpaid - that is, that time is off the clock and doesn't count towards hours one is being paid for. If this is so in your workplace, this may help when making the pitch for longer breaks. Hiring a single person to have someone extra to put on the relevent four hour shift (paid hourly) would cost the same as if the eight of you worked straight through, as in never took a break at all. If you take Rob Baily's advice, and use the extra person to allow two lunches to happen at once, you would need only two hours coverage for those half hour breaks... and with eight people each taking ten minutes less per day, that would itself cover most of the difference, leaving the equivalent of one person working 40 minutes extra per day a cost that is set against improving everyone's work and safety.

Of course, this works best if (at least) the person covering the break time is paid hourly, and/or if the breaks are unpaid, but even if neither is true explaining your requests with this sort of mindset may help explain to management how even a small difference to them could make a big impact for your workers.

As a side note, since you can (evidently) work with seven people covering for a little while, you may be able to ask for shorter, like 10 minute breaks either before or after lunchbreaks - possibly depending on whether lunch is earlier side or later in their shift. That may help even if it's not all at once.

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