UK: Brexit's Looming Impact on Health and Safety

Brexit is currently a hot topic in the UK, and after Theresa May declared her plans for the UK to leave the single market, many people are rightly concerned about the wider impact it will have on businesses. And while the decision will have a huge impact on the entire nation, questions are beginning to be asked as to how this divorce will specifically affect the UK’s health and safety regulations.

David Davis, speaking to an audience in Vienna, insisted that Brexit would not lead to insufficient health and safety standards, and dismissed fears that the UK would become “a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction.” Instead, he claimed that the nation’s trajectory involved a “race to the top in global standards,” with no plans to let them slip.

However, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said these assurances were not to be trusted, and that “there are many in Theresa May’s government who want to use Brexit as an excuse to drive down standards and weaken fundamental rights.”

A major consideration is making sure that there are no sudden gaps in health, safety and environmental legislation, when the divorce is eventually finalised. The good news is that the Health and Safety at Work Act is a British piece of legislation, and so will not be affected. In fact, many important EU directives have been implemented in UK law, so are safe from Brexit.

Bridget Leathley, a freelance Health and Safety consultant and trainer, noted that there “won’t be any immediate differences; EU law still applies for the next two years at least.” However, there will undoubtedly be an eventual impact on British workers.

Where EU Regulations apply, the government plans to cover legislation through the Great Repeal Bill, which will clone these regulations into UK law on the day of Brexit. Unfortunately, it is not yet clear how this will work in practice. In fact, Ms. Leathley warned that there is a danger that EU regulations will “fall through the cracks” if they are not included in the bill, and that Britain will not be fully protected if the government doesn’t get these plans and negotiations right.

Once the UK have left the EU, the government will have to implement and police this bill, and contend with the fact that many EU laws rely on more than 50 different agencies, such as the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the European Food Safety Authority, and the European Chemicals Agency.  When the UK leaves the single market, they will lose the services of these agencies and their accompanying benefits, such as the sharing of information.

More pressures will be placed on the increasingly underfunded HSE, who may have to take on more work without the right number of staff, and without the information shared by these European agencies about, for example, how substances should be used, or likely hazards. The UK may eventually buy their way back into these agencies, dashing all hopes of the big savings that were promised during the referendum.

Hopefully, the high standards that the UK has come to be known for will continue to be upheld.

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