What does Brexit mean for health & safety laws?

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It’s the word on everyone’s lips, but what does Brexit mean for health and safety in UK workplaces? As with many legal and business areas, we will have to wait to find out the exact details, but overall, we would expect UK health and safety laws to stay relatively unchanged. However, there are a couple of opportunities to revisit unnecessary or ineffective requirements.

UK already leads in health and safety

All Member States had some degree of health and safety protection in place, prior to EU action in this area, brought about by the 1986 Single European Act. The UK already had a well-established health and safety system, exemplified by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 which established a goal-setting approach to managing risk, well-regarded internationally for its success in reducing work-related injuries and ill-health.

Even without the intervention of the Single European Act, it is highly likely that the UK would have introduced many of the existing EU regulatory requirements, although it is likely that left to its own devices the UK would have taken a more risk-based approach than that which actually emerged from the EU.

What could we change

As we are not starting from a point where we have an unfettered choice to decide what legislation we need, we should examine what we already have, and what, given the choice, we might wish to change.

There is no doubt that simplification, consolidation and modernisation of the health and safety legislation combined with a more goal-setting approach has many advantages. EEF has already looked at the existing collection of directives and believes that there are some candidates for repeal without reducing levels of protection for workers. These include the Artificial Optical Radiation and Electro Magnetic Fields Directives.

Stability is best

Of course, once employers have embraced a new piece of legislation, become familiar with it and uncertainty over its practical interpretation has been dealt with, further change becomes more problematic and costly than the status quo. Once processes have been embedded within industry, removing or changing them is a long and difficult process. Differences in national regulations are likely to add to business costs, introduce uncertainty and could discourage companies from trading or expanding abroad. It seems unlikely that the UK government would jeopardise existing safety and environmental standards to confer a UK trading advantage unless there is a proven alternative which meets H&S objectives.

Stay informed

How exactly Brexit will impact a variety of important HSCE considerations will become clearer over time. Consider signing up for an HSCE briefing at sites across the UK (free to EEF members with access to our health and safety support package) to stay in the know.

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Health, Safety and Sustainability Director

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