Change, but very little change

The day after the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, Boris Johnson said withdrawal from the union gives the UK the “glorious opportunity to set its own laws”. How much of our worker protection legislation will be reset was always going to depend on a combination of economic and political necessity.

There is no doubting the union’s influence on our safety and health law. The think tank Open Europe calculated that two-thirds of OSH-related regulations introduced between 1997 and 2009 originated in the EU. But there are good reasons not to unpick our framework, however it was acquired and however “glorious” the opportunity for change. The fact is that the UK's risk-based health and safety system of regulation has been found to be fit for purpose by several independent reviews and is respected and imitated across the world and so changing how it is applied was never going to make sense.

The UK government has now issued its draft proposals for tweaks to safety and health regulations to ensure they still function as intended after the country exits the European Union and things are clearer.

The Health and Safety (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 are designed to ensure that European Union-derived health and safety protections will continue in domestic law after the UK leaves the EU. The government has said that, in the case of some protections, technical amendments to existing legislation will be required to ensure effective operation.

The regulations, which have been made under powers in s8 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (EUWA). The EUWA will allow EU-derived legislation to be fixed to ensure it operates properly and effectively once the UK has left the EU. These amendments address deficiencies in health and safety legislation arising from the exit of the UK from the EU. This instrument amends provisions which will for example, become inappropriate or redundant.

The EUWA maintain the protections afforded by existing health and safety legislation and do not impose any new liabilities or obligations on relevant persons. Where there are transboundary implications (for example for UK-registered companies that operate outside the EU, or for offshore installations or planning for major incidents) changes are inevitably required. But for most companies and workers in the UK, there should be little or no change with regard to the protections and day to day requirements for managing health and safety.

The Department for Work and Pensions laid the draft statutory instrument before parliamentary scrutiny committees last week as part of the “parliamentary sifting mechanism” contained in the EUWA.

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