How Brexit Could Affect Health and Safety

Ever since the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union on June 23rd the result has sparked all kinds of rumours about how it will affect life in the UK. Brexit has been blamed for everything from the increased price of Marmite to the ruination of the UK’s ability to trade freely with certain countries.

Health and safety law – EU or UK?

Amongst other uncertainties what is not clear is how, or if, Brexit will affect the health and safety laws that the UK has, many of which emanated from the EU and which have been incorporated into UK law. Considering that one of the main points of contention of ‘Leave’ campaigners was the issue surrounding the reduction or removal of regulatory burdens on British businesses, it could prove very difficult and time-consuming to extricate ourselves from the EU. This is especially pertinent when you consider that under the (legally binding) Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union the EUs authority over the UK regarding workers’ health and safety rights will be difficult to reverse.[1]

What did we do before?

Health and safety in workplaces is actually nothing new. There were rules in place as far back as 1802 when the Factories Act[2] was put in place to protect people working in the cotton and woollen mills. Current health and safety regulation is covered in the European Directive on Safety and Health at Work which dates from 1989 and which was incorporated into the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This guarantees minimum health and safety levels and obliges employers to identify risks and take steps to avoid them.

Will everything stay the same?

Despite the pledge by Brexit campaigners and politicians to free the UK from unnecessary regulation and to allow the UK government to set its own laws, there have been no studies so far saying that health and safety will be unduly affected. Protection for workers has existed since long before the UK even joined the EU and is now expected in all workplaces.

It is too early to say what impact Brexit will have on health and safety legislation because the government have yet to begin negotiations with the EU and much rests on access to the single market, where the criteria for membership set by the EU includes health and safety law.[3] What is clear is that the UK government is unlikely to abandon health and safety laws but may well look to streamline them in order to cut red tape and help businesses to prosper.