Is Brexit the Next Big Challenge for UK Health & Safety Regulators?
The last few months have seen the UK’s authorities rushing to put together completely new health and safety guidelines due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While many of us can now go back to work by following these new regulations, there is concern that Brexit may cause even greater problems, as the existing EU rules will no longer apply. What can we expect to happen in this respect?
With the transition period set to finish at the end of 2020, now is a good time to see how our existing rules on this matter may change.
What Will Change?
It is worth starting by looking at the current situation. In the UK, the health and safety laws are a mixture of British acts and European directives. This powerful combination means that the country has one of the world’s strictest and most respected set of health and safety rules.
For example, the most important piece of legislation here is the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This tells us what the employer’s duty is to their staff, and how employees have to look after themselves and others.
Since this is a long-standing British law, there is no reason to believe that it will be changed, unless it needs to be updated to cover areas that are currently under EU regulations. We will still need to carry out appropriate risk assessments, use a proper ladder or step unit and so on.
However, other areas are covered by EU laws just now. These are the elements that are going to change, with the key issue being whether they are replaced by new regulations or not.
The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has already stated that they expect companies to ensure that their ability to look after their workers remains the same during the transition period. It seems that the levels of health & safety will be unchanged after Brexit.
One area of the construction industry that will be affected is in EU-compliant materials. The current reliance on EU-certified products will be removed, and we can probably expect some UK-only equivalents to come out before the end of the year.
What About Companies That Operate in Different Areas?
One potential area of concern is where a company has, for example, a building site in the UK and another in continental Europe. The issue here is that from 2021 onwards they will be governed by different laws.
It seems unlikely that this causes any major health and safety issues. As we have seen, the standards applied in both jurisdictions should remain very similar. Yet, it may cause an extra burden in terms of paperwork.
This should become more obvious over time, as new laws implemented in both the UK and the EU will see the regions take different paths on certain matters.
If fewer overseas workers are left on British sites after Brexit, this will also have an effect. Some companies may lose their health & safety experts in this way.
There is no need to fear a major switch to new guidelines at the end of 2020. It is more likely to be a continuation of the same rules, with the UK gradually moving away from its EU counterparts on certain issues over time.