In Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd Mr Crawford was a railway signalman working eight hour shifts on single manned boxes. The boxes were not busy with something like six trains coming through per hour. Mr Crawford had no rostered breaks but was expected to take breaks when they "naturally occurred" while remaining on call at all times.
Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 entitles workers to a minimum uninterrupted 20 minute rest break when working for 6 hours or more. If that is not possible then the worker is entitled to "an equivalent period of compensatory rest" under Regulation 24(a). Under Regulation 24(b) the Working Time Regulations provides that, in exceptional cases, where it is not possible to grant the equivalent period of rest then the employer must "afford the employee such protection as may be appropriate in order to safeguard the workers health and safety".
Although none of Mr Crawford's individual breaks lasted as much as 20 minutes, in aggregate they lasted substantially more. However, because none of the breaks lasted as long as 20 minutes Mr Crawford claimed that Network Rail failed to provide him with rest breaks or, alternatively, compensatory rest. At first instance the Employment Tribunal found that Mr Crawford could take short breaks which accumulated to more than 20 minutes, albeit he was on call during these times. The Tribunal also found that the exceptional case circumstance does not apply because it would have been possible for Network Rail to arrange for a relief signaller to move between boxes allowing the signalmen on duty to have an uninterrupted 20 minute break as required by Regulation 12. Finally, the Tribunal found that Mr Crawford had been encouraged to take compensatory rest and that he had not requested nor been refused any other arrangement. Accordingly, the Tribunal rejected his claim.
On appeal the EAT noted that the fact that Mr Crawford was on call at all times did not prevent the requirement for compensatory rest being met. However, it did find that for the right to compensatory rest under Regulation 24(a) to be met it was essential that the break was 20 minutes long. Citing the earlier Court of Appeal case of Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd, where it was held that compensatory rest must so far as possible ensure that the work free period is at least 20 minutes, the EAT rejected Network Rail's argument that numerous shorter breaks were actually better from a health and safety perspective. However, as there were some shifts where there was no opportunity for a 20 minute uninterrupted break and because it was possible to provide such a break by providing a relief signaller the EAT found that Network Rail had breached the Working Time Regulations.
Had it not been possible to provide a relief signalman then Regulation 24(b) may have applied and the aggregated periods of rest may well have sufficed. What this case shows though is that the words "equivalent period of compensatory rest" should be taken at face value - where the minimum requirement under Regulation 12 is 20 minutes, the minimum requirement for compensatory rest is exactly the same.