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IIRSM/BSC letter to Theresa May
Date of Issue: Wednesday, 20 July, 2016
These are challenging and exciting times for the UK. As professional and membership bodies representing the health and safety sector, we are committed to the supporting the negotiation process on behalf of our members, and would like to take this opportunity to highlight some key themes for your consideration.
The last 40 years have seen a significant improvement in the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in the UK. This has been driven and structured by our collective approach to risk management developed from our legislative and regulatory framework. Some of the legislation that comprises this framework has, since the mid-nineties, had its origins in European Directives, but all are now discrete items of UK law. The Framework has been subject to several independent critical reviews and is widely accepted to be robust and effective.
Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU it is possible that the legislative framework may come under review. If this does occur, caution will be required to maintain current standards and protect the health and safety of workers in the UK. The objective must be to judge each element of the legislative framework on its own merits and effectiveness, not just on its origin, in order to retain an effective framework which doesn't place unnecessary burdens on business.
For over 40 years the UK has focused on the management of safety and occupational diseases in the workplace. We have made excellent progress and are recognised as world leaders in health and safety. We must of course retain our focus on these important issues, but the nature of work is changing and technology is blurring the boundaries between life and work. People are at the heart of the UK economy; they are one of our most significant assets. If we are to thrive outside the EU, employers will need to focus on developing and supporting the workforce.
Whilst commencement of formal negotiations is still some way off, we are concerned that the level of uncertainty related to political restructuring and the lack of any firm structure or schedule for withdrawal, is already resulting in unintended consequences which could adversely affect the safety, health and wellbeing of workers in the UK.
Uncertainty over the future work status of EU nationals in the UK is already causing anxiety and stress, which could adversely impact on the mental health of affected individuals.
In sectors with a heavy reliance on skilled labour from other EU countries, such as healthcare, construction, facilities management and hospitality there is potential for a skills gap to develop as competent workers choose not to work in the UK. Reduced availability of competent staff will increase the pressure on those that remain causing fatigue and potential for an increase in accidents and mental ill health.
Similar outcomes could result as employers seek to consolidate their position in the light of market pressures. A slowdown in recruitment and reductions in expenditure and investment, may adversely impact the condition of equipment, working environments and the quality and availability of consumables.
Whilst the process of exit negotiations will be vital in ensuring the long term future of the UK, we urge the Government to recognise that the current uncertainty is already impacting the health and safety of our workers. We call on Government to prioritise publication of a schedule and structure for exit negotiations so that employers can develop plans which will assure safety, health and wellbeing for their workers in the short and medium term whilst the formal negotiations take place.
Throughout history, the UK has had a reputation for strength and resourcefulness. We need to draw on this now and look to the future. The next few years are going to represent a time of significant change, but this offers a great opportunity to reshape our understanding of health and safety. By placing greater focus on health and wellbeing we can maximise the effectiveness of our workforce and help to prepare the UK economy for a future outside the EU.
We are confident that your appointment will provide the political stability that is required to move our country forwards towards a new future, and we look forward to engaging with your government and officials to support discussion about proportionate health, safety and wellbeing as an enabler for UK business.
Mike Robinson Phillip Pearson
Chief Executive Chief Executive
British Safety Council llRSM