Will Brexit affect the UK's Health and Safety Regulations?

Great Britain has solidified its reputation as having one of the best health and safety records in the world. Together with the EU, this country has created and implemented legislation that aims to mitigate health and safety risks, both on the business and consumer side.

As the UK government prepares to leave the EU in a few months, speculations on how it will affect the country’s laws on health and safety abound. Will Brexit affect the industries that need to abide by EU rules on health and safety? And if so, how huge will the impact be?

Red Tape

One of the many reasons Brexit was so popular was perceived freedom from excessive EU legislation and red tape. In terms of health and safety regulations, having less red tape would depend largely on the economic and political landscapes, says Banyard Solutions Managing Director Simon Olliff.

If the UK needs to deregulate to prove its viability as a trade partner to the rest of the world, then worker protection legislation could conceivably be put at risk. Yet, if the UK economy struggles post-Brexit, then undoing regulations may simply be at the bottom of the government’s priority list. Of course, so much of this trade off depends on the nature of the Brexit deal reached and the expediency of any future trade negotiations with non EU countries. 

As it stands there is a lot of red tape to unravel. This sentiment is echoed by Better Health at Work Alliance (BHWA). 

We’re unlikely to see UK politicians having the time or the appetite to trawl back through and unpick years and years of EU-led health and safety regulation and legislation.”

Budget for the Safety of Employees in Workplaces

The fallout from the Brexit vote saw debates by all manner of experts on whether, and to what degree, the spending capabilities of both British and multinational businesses operating in the UK would be affected. This is due to the volatility of the financial and currency market, as well as a number of businesses closing down and reducing investment in the country.

If the economic and financial downturn continues, there are speculations that company budget for the health and wellbeing of employees may be compromised. However, BHWA Director Charlotte Cross says that this is unlikely and the current economic climate did not affect workplace health and wellbeing sectors.

"Many alliance members are now reporting significant upturn in service take-up and subsequent expansion plans. Similarly, employers remain undeterred in their increasing moves toward improving staff health and wellbeing,”

In fact, Chief Executive of Medigold Alex Goldsmith also suggests that “softer” spend on occupational and workplace health (e.g. training, health promotion activities) “could well come under closer scrutiny.”

Maintaining the Status Quo

Two-thirds of the UK’s health and safety regulations that were implemented over the past 30 years came from the EU. However, the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) states that leaving the EU will “have little impact on the safety laws of Britain”—at least, in the short term.

For starters, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act of 1974, the key law in Britain’s approach to workplace safety, was derived from UK needs. NEBOSH also highlighted the fact that the UK’s health and safety system is used by other European countries as benchmarks for their own legislations.

A number of safety legislations that were derived from EU directives, on the other hand, will also not be affected.

Amongst others, this includes:

According to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), after leaving the EU, it would remain in the UK’s interest to stick with the EU’s directives on health and safety, as these have all passed several independent reviews and have been the standard used across the world for many years.

IOSH Head of Policy and Public Affairs Richard Jones also says: 

As UK organisations will want to continue to trade with Europe, it will be in everyone's interest to maintain the status quo... The UK has already helped to influence sound foundations for European health and safety and beyond and our expertise will continue to be sought and valued.”

Changes in legislation would unlikely happen immediately, the BHWA says. However, the organisation maintains that there are “those that fear we might see a gradual change in the future health and safety policy, law, and regulation.”

Reliance on EU Regulations

Although we rely on EU Regulations, the government intends to clone these directives into UK law on the day of Brexit via the Great Repeal Bill. This, however, is not as straightforward as it sounds, as EU regulations refer to at least 50 other different EU agencies.

This move will only work if the UK stays in the single market like Norway, despite leaving the EU. However, if do not stay in the single market, cloning EU directives will not make sense post-Brexit, as we will no longer have the services of these EU agencies anymore.

Simon Olliff of Banyard Solutions argues that there is no need to stop following EU directives. For one thing, more pressing matters will be negotiated like immigration and national security. And secondly, the country’s progress in terms of health and safety, as well as its leading position in the world, would likely be damaged.

“It’s important that when Brexit negotiations are underway and Britain chooses its path, those at the centre of discussions do not forget the positive way EU regulation has impacted UK health and safety policy and improved thousands of lives as a result.”

CE Markings

Employers are mandated to make sure all their outdoor workforce use equipment that are well-maintained and are CE compliant. The UK will continue using CE marking even after leaving the EU and this is especially applicable in the case of high risk work, such as those of tree surgeons and arborists who use high-risk tools and equipment like chainsaws and who work at height. 

One reason for this is that it’s an internationally-recognised standard; and secondly, it’s been written too much into the country’s health and safety laws. Removing CE marking would entail rewriting the entire legislation, not to mention its various implications on trading.

Confirmed by the CE Marking Association, products and markets within the UK and EU will continue to use this standard when appropriate. However, there is always the possibility of this standard changing down the line, as this will depend on plenty of factors that will go into the government’s negotiations with the EU.

Uncertain Future After Brexit

On March 29, 2019, Britain will leave the EU. While regulations covering health and safety in the country may not be on top of the government’s priority list, it does not necessarily mean that it won’t change in the long run. 

For now though, the status quo on health and safety looks likely to remain, in the short to medium term at least. Businesses are urged to continue strengthening policies on keeping their workers healthy and safe via more effective risk prevention and better policy implementation.