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Written by
on 10 December 2018


Uncertainty about Brexit has generated all kinds of predictions, including a reduction in workplace safety. But is that really likely?

With news that Prime Minister Theresa May has finally thrashed out a deal for leaving the European Union, the media has gone into overdrive. Aside from comment about how bad (or good) the deal is, stories are re-emerging about how bad life will be outside the EU.

One story that keeps doing the rounds is about workplace safety. According to some outlets, leaving the EU will see an end to health and safety regulation, creating a veritable wild west on Britain’s construction sites.

The good news is that these stories are completely baseless for these two reasons.

UK legislation pre-dates EU health and safety regulations

Widely regarded as the gold standard for national standards, the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) became law the year after Britain joined the European Economic Community. But the EU did not publish any specifics about Europe-wide health and safety requirements until 2007.

Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union “gives the EU the authority to adopt directives in the field of safety and health at work.” By this time, the UK’s own laws had already been protecting workers for 33 years. It is believed that Article 153 and the European Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work was inspired by the existing British legislation.

Clearly, the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) is more than fit for purpose and will outlast Britain’s membership of the European Union.

All current EU law is now UK law too

Over the last 44 years, UK and EU law has become almost inextricably linked. With a self-imposed deadline for completing Brexit in two years, the government used a new law to put off dealing with unwanted legislation until a later date.

The Great Repeal Bill, which became law on 26th June 2018, simply copies all relevant EU law onto the UK’s statute books. This means that unless specifically repealed all existing EU legal standards will still apply, even after Brexit completes.

No, Brexit will not make you less safe at work

This good news is, come March 29th 2019, you will still have exactly the same workplace protections you currently enjoy. Absolutely nothing will change, and your employer will still have the same obligations to prepare risk assessments, issue personal protective equipment and take proactive steps to improve standards across the site.

Obviously, this is a warning for employers too. Their activities will still be under scrutiny from the Health and Safety Executive, and any incidents that result in workplace injuries will be investigated and prosecuted as they are now.

Predicting what will happen after Brexit has become a favourite game for politicians, trying to score points to suit their personal view on Leave and Remain. How the situation develops remains to be seen. But the good news is that British workers still have the right to safe conditions when working.

For more help and advice about health and safety provisions pre- or post-Brexit, please get in touch.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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