The UK joined the European Union in 1973. Since then, the EU has played an important role in protecting the safety and health of workers across Europe, initially introducing a Framework Directive that mirrored much of our Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
The Framework Directive and five ‘daughter’ directives established general principles for safety and health management, transposed into national law by Member States. This introduced obligations on all member states to ensure that employers evaluate, avoid and reduce workplace risks in consultation with their workforce. In January 1993, our legislation, which already met most of the requirements, enacted a set of six regulations (the ‘six pack’). Further directives addressed specific hazards such as noise, asbestos, work at height as well as construction work, chemicals, machinery, off-shore working etc. and amidst grumblings, the regime was burdensome. Two independent reviews found the UK health and safety regime broadly fit for purpose.
It’s clear that scaling back UK standards would negatively impact trade with nations that have higher health and safety standards. Unless we are prepared to regulate a two-tier system, it’s likely nothing much will change. The Government’s official position is to protect and enhance workers’ rights and to transition EU derived safety law into UK legislation.
Will the current health and safety regime be dismantled?
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (EUWA), effective 29 March 2019, provides for legal certainty immediately following EU exit, by adopting a rulebook and set of institutional arrangements as close as possible to that which currently exists, including most general principles and most rights and obligations as they exist on exit day.
It is important to remember that embedded in all current health and safety legislation are the basic principles that require employers to evaluate, avoid and reduce workplace risks in consultation with their workforce. Furthermore, the International Standard ISO 45001, though not a legal requirement, enhances those requirements so that workers are not only consulted, they are involved and encouraged to participate. It is widely acknowledged that proportionate risk management saves businesses money, reduces costs and, regardless of our post-Brexit relationship with the EU, employers should continue to comply with Health and Safety laws as they currently stand.
Alexis Barrett CMIOSH OSHCR
Senior H&S Consultant
How Alcumus can help
To find out more, contact your Health and Safety Consultant, visit our Health and Safety Consultancy page, or call us on 01484 439 920