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How Brexit Could Affect Health and Safety

21 January 2017

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Following the result of the EU referendum earlier this year, the We Do Training website recently outlined the impact that Brexit could have on health and safety policies in the UK.

The commotion surrounding Brexit has led to growing uncertainty across a variety of industries and sectors. Every industry is shaped by EU influence in some way – whether it’s through Regulations or Directives – and the field of environment and health and safety is no exception.

When Britain triggers Article 50 and requests to leave the EU, the extrication process is likely to be long and complex. Health and safety is expected to be in the focus, due to the fact ‘Leave’ campaigners have argued about the need to reduce – and in some cases, remove – regulatory burdens on British firms.

Many of the UK’s existing health and safety laws emanated from the EU, before being incorporated into UK law. The Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, which places the EU in a position of authority regarding health and safety rights for British workers, could be particularly difficult to reverse, the article predicts.

Health and safety in British workplaces pre-dates the European Union, and the UK has protected its workers long before it joined the EU. This goes as far back the Factories Act, created in 1802 to protect workers in cotton and woollen mills.

However, there was a lack of legislative competence and consistency in the field of workplace health and safety until the mid-1980s. The European Directive on Safety and Health at Work began in 1989, and was incorporated into the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations a decade later. This ensures minimum health and safety levels, and dictates that employers identify risks and take measures to avoid them.

Despite calls for the UK to be ‘freed’ from EU regulations, there has been no confirmation that health and safety will be overly affected. Negotiations between the UK and Europe are yet to begin, and there is much resting on Britain’s access to the single market – whose membership criteria includes health and safety law.

While health and safety laws are unlikely to be abandoned altogether, the UK government may try to streamline them and reduce red tape for UK businesses.

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