Protecting Health and Safety after ‘Brexit’ – ‘Brexit Puts Worker Health and Safety at RiskTo: All Branches
Following the June 2016 referendum, in March 2017 the UK Government gave notice under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, that Britain would be leaving the EU. From that date a two-year window began during which talks will take place on what the details of the “divorce settlement” with the EU will be. In the meantime Britain is still bound by the obligations and responsibilities of EU membership.
Once the talks are completed the European Parliament and the European Council need to ratify them. The withdrawal agreement must be ratified by March 2019, so the talks on this probably need to be finished by October 2018.
The exit talks are separate from the negotiations on the future relationship with the EU after Brexit so the agreement is likely to need to include “transitional arrangements”, so that Britain can continue trading under EU rules to allow the talks on an agreement on future arrangements to be extended. These talks are likely to be very long and complex. Even if all existing EU regulations were to continue to apply, most will have to be restructured as they previously relied on EU institutions, and the talks will also have to lay the foundations for new trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world.
The outcome of the negotiations over the new relationship between the UK and the EU will determine what kind of health and safety system the UK will have. The UK joined the EU in 1973, and since then, the European Union has played an important role in protecting the health and safety of working people. The biggest change was the Health and Safety Framework Directive (89/391/EEC) and five “daughter” directives, which established broad-based obligations on member states to ensure that employers evaluate, avoid and reduce workplace risks in consultation with their workforce. At the time, little was required to implement the new regulations as Britain already had a legislative system which met most of the requirements of the ‘Framework Directive’ in respect of assessing and managing risk, as well as the duties of employers. The ‘Framework Directive’ mirrored much of what was in the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc (HSW) Act, but also the Regulations that had been made under it such as the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977, however some of the Directives went further than the existing UK laws so it was necessary
to extend the law. Six new sets of regulations (called the ‘six pack’), together with Approved Codes of Practice and Guidance Notes were enacted on 1 January 1993. These were:-
Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations
Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations
Provision The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations
Manual Handling Operations Regulations
and use of Work Equipment Regulations
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations)
A range of other health and safety directives, implemented through national regulations have also come about as a result of EU directives. These cover the management of specific workplace risks such as the Control of Noise at Work Regulations or The Work at Height Regulations, as well as the protection of specific groups of workers (including new or expectant mothers, young people and temporary workers). Specific directives cover areas such as Construction Work, Asbestos, Chemicals, Lead, Ionising Radiation, etc, etc. Although the pace of activity peaked soon after the introduction of the ‘six-pack’, legislative activity has continued and health and safety regulation in the UK has been firmly driven by the EU. 41 out of the 65 new British health and safety regulations introduced between 1997 and 2009 originated in the EU.
Workplace health and safety protections are at risk from the Tory government’s Brexit plans. The warning comes in a new TUC briefing, “Protecting Health and Safety After Brexit” (Copy Attached). It reports that although the government has set out its intention in a white paper to transfer all existing health and safety protections from EU law to UK law, there are no guarantees for what happens afterwards. The TUC Briefing says that the government must make sure that a commitment is written into the Brexit deal to, as a minimum, match present and future EU standards for workplace health and safety. The TUC says if this doesn’t occur existing protections will be vulnerable to erosion and repeal.
Working people must not have their health and safety put at greater risk after Brexit. The government needs a watertight plan to transfer protections from EU to UK law. The best way to guarantee all health and safety protections is to put workplace rights at the heart of the Brexit deal. It should be written into the deal that the UK and EU will meet the same standards, for both existing rights and future improvements.
Copy of the TUC Briefing “Protecting Health and Safety After Brexit”
Table containing data relating to Statutory Instruments owned and enforced by HSE/local authorities.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer
Email Attachments – Click to download