The news agenda, over the past three years, has been commandeered by Brexit, says Lee Pickering, Head of Heavy Manufacturing at Arco
Whether it’s about securing a deal, the budget or our stability as a country following our ‘divorce’ from the EU, there are still many unanswered questions facing all industries in the UK including manufacturing. It’s now important to focus on the opportunities Brexit offers the UK, including the chance to reform our health and safety regulations.
Some of the largest companies within EEF’s recent survey support this view, suggesting a growing majority in the sector. Policymakers now need to respond by honouring the commitment they made to lead a ‘race to the top’ on health and safety standards after the UK has left the EU.
Arco carried out market surveillance on a number of protective products available that are meant to keep workers safe, however, the findings showed the opposite. Many of the products tested, including gloves and footwear, were failing tests and not compliant. To reduce the risk of non-compliant PPE entering the UK marketplace the CE mark approval process needs to be improved with current procedural weaknesses addressed. Arco’s ‘Be Sure’ campaign discusses in detail how the current CE and EU type approval process is allowing less reputable manufacturers or importers to make changes to the main components of a CE approved product, which may impact its safety performance, without retesting it.
Currently there is no third party ongoing monitoring process for category 1 or 2 PPE including footwear and hard hats, which places the responsibility on the manufacturer, import and distributor; Arco believes there needs to be more governance within this process. To support this, market surveillance needs to be enhanced, so regulatory authorities aren’t just responding when issues are brought to their attention but have the resources to work proactively to identify non-compliant products. This, of course, will require sufficient funding to organisations like the HSE and local Trading Standards authorities, for education, prevention, enforcement and prosecution functions.
Arco agrees with the industry that a hurried approach to changing regulations isn’t the correct tactic. Continuity with EU policy is the best approach by maintaining the regulations by means of a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA). This will minimise disruption and provide a smooth transition period for all businesses. While there are those who still see health and safety regulation as unnecessary ‘red tape’, it’s absolutely imperative that the Government doesn’t see Brexit as an opportunity to reduce worker protection and remains aligned with European standards – the British people voted to leave the EU, not to make their workplaces and lives more dangerous.
If the Government plans to revisit any aspects of the safety framework, this must be conducted with a clear timeframe and sufficient opportunities for industry consultation to ensure that the UK’s reputation for excellent health and safety management isn’t compromised.