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Bad boys and broken links
Date of Issue: Thursday, 3 October, 2019
The ultimate effects of the UK’s exit from the EU have yet to be made clear, but those of us operating in risk and health & safety management must have serious concerns for the future in the light of recent comments by its leading proponents.
A recent article on the website Bad Boys of Brexit explains how one committed Brexiteer has ‘enthused about the potential to slash environmental and safety laws’ after Britain leaves the EU. In the Independent’s online newspaper he was quoted as saying “We could, if we wanted, accept emissions standards from India, Americas and Europe. There’d be no contradiction in that. We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here.”
It seems that under one wing of the Conservative party there’s a desire to go even further than David Cameron’s ‘red tape challenge’, which was designed to restrict further growth in health and safety regulations. Instead, this new approach would seek to remove health and safety and environmental protections with the aim of making Britain seem to be more ‘competitive’.
This drive towards lowering standards at the expense of safety and occupational health is a retrograde step. It threatens to destroy almost 50 years of progress that the UK has helped to make in refining and raising international standards of H&S performance, and as a base concept it ignores the lessons we have learned about safe and healthy working leading to a more productive society.
When Brexit takes place the current Government plans to incorporate all existing EU H&S and environmental laws in a simple piece of implementing/transposing legislation. In effect, we are at a standstill with the EU on day one. The decision as to whether the UK should track or follow EU developments, and move forward or backwards after that isn’t clear.
The present Government’s effectiveness has depended on the ruling party having a working majority or an effective coalition. While the leading proponent’s stated desire is to make Britain more ‘competitive’, the UK may have to follow EU regulations so that UK businesses can demonstrate compliance with EU rules on trade. His government would have to persuade Parliament that any proposals it puts forward to lower UK standards are in the interests of the country, including any part of the UK still trading with the EU.
In practice, any decision to move away from European standards of H&S will be difficult to achieve if compliance with those standards is required as a price to trade with the EU.
Stuart Armstrong SFIIRSM, is a solicitor and MD of SVArmstrong Ltd