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Read our President's thoughts on Brexit
Date of Issue: Friday, 29 July, 2016
IIRSM president Siobhan Donnelly has urged members and health and safety practitioners to be alert to safety and wellbeing risks faced by individuals who are distracted and upset by the impact of the Leave vote on their lives and their futures.
The sector could also be faced with a brain-drain, she warned, if some professionals conclude that they can better pursue their careers in other EU countries, or elsewhere overseas.
But in other comments, Donnelly, a specialist health and safety lawyer and founder of her own legal practice in Belfast, said that Brexit could boost the authority of the UK courts and the HSE, as they would no longer be subject to the higher authority of the European Court of Justice.
The UK’s greater freedom to decide on regulation and enforcement priorities could create scope to tackle topics that the EU has been slow to address, she added.
And she stressed that the UK’s role in the international health and safety sector would not be negatively affected.
Donnelly said: “Our advice to members is to be aware, with safety-critical people and also in general, that people have been unsettled, and some are questioning their futures. Where there can be reassurance, this is the time to give it, from a welfare point of view.
“Managers and senior leaders are often not in a position to say the business will not be impacted. But I think that where they can reassure and formulate plans that give certainty around jobs, they should communicate that.”
She added that IIRSM had also taken calls from individuals considering their career options following Brexit. “There are people who will be looking to relocate, perhaps to Scotland or Ireland or further afield. We can’t afford to lose good people, and it’s the people who know they will get jobs who make these decisions first."
But Donnelly stressed that IIRSM “wants to be positive and work our way through this situation”, and highlighted a number of areas where Brexit could work in favour of the health and safety sector.
She pointed out that the removal of the EU’s European Court of Justice as the highest legal authority in the UK would have the effect of boosting the authority of the HSE and the UK courts.
“Does that mean the HSE will have more power? I don’t have the answer, but I do think it’s something to consider, now that the HSE and the national courts will have the final say, because cases will stop at the national courts.”
In addition, she noted that the European Commission’s Health Programme Work Plan for 2016 had been criticised by the TUC for not going far enough, for instance by addressing work-related ill-health and carcinogens. But Brexit could mean that the HSE and the HSENI in Northern Ireland could assume wider responsibilities in these areas, she suggested.
For example, the HSE might be able to go further in enforcing the Managing Health and Safety Regulations on occupational ill health. “The requirements are there in the regulation, but there could be greater action,” she said.
And while there were fears that the UK could lose influence in European and global affairs following Brexit, Donnelly said that this was unlikely to be the case in the sphere of health and safety.
“Overseas, people look to the UK [for leadership on health and safety], people don’t really talk about Europe. The 2012 Olympics sent a clear message to the world about our health and safety standards. When I speak to people in Qatar, or Abu Dhabi or Dubai, they all look to the UK.”