The referendum vote has long been cast and the arguments still continue, but it looks like Brexit is here to stay, regardless of your own political viewpoint.
With a couple of exceptions, the vast majority of health and safety acts and regulations applicable to UK businesses were created by the UK government. A proportion of them however were written in response to European Directives, so an obvious question that employees and businesses alike may want to ask is “what changes will there be to UK health and safety law and enforcement after Brexit?”.
A reasonable question indeed, but one which it seems impossible to give a clear answer to this early in the Brexit process. After all, the UK has never done this before, we are in uncharted waters. The political changes, legal changes and even the timescales are all still to be crystallised.
Last week, the Westminster Legal Policy Forum met to discuss potential Brexit implications, as well as last years changes to the Sentencing Guidelines, which are already resulting in huge increases in criminal fines for businesses who break health and safety laws.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”aJR0j” via=”no” ]Legislation aside of course, protecting the workforce, the equipment they use and the property they work in has always been good for the bottom line.[/ctt]
The key messages delivered at the Forum are summarised:
Professor Almond, Research Division Leader, School of Law, University of Reading.
- To review and discuss all the existing UK legislation is potentially “a staggering amount of work.”
- On the subject of deregulation and removal of red tape – “There isn’t as much appetite as some of the Brextremists vocabulary might suggest.”
Michael Mealing, Chairman, Employment Policy Unit, Federation of Small Businesses.
- Discussed the potential for ‘blue tape’, where small businesses may end up doing more than is required.
- Anticipates a review of the existing ‘Fee For Intervention’ scheme (where the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can charge businesses an hourly rate for material breaches that they find and investigate).
- Wants to see a more transparent approach where the HSE are more helpful than punitive.
Mike Appleby, Solicitor and Partner, Fisher Scoggins Waters.
- Doesn’t see in the short / medium term that much will change with the way we regulate health and safety.
- Believes there is “now more of an emphasis on individuals. It can be a life changing event for individuals having a case hanging over their head. What concerns me is that those that regulate may not really understand how each company works or the role of the individual. We all, with hindsight, have 20/20 vision – but is that the right way to prosecute?”
Neil Lennox, Head of Group, Safety & Insurance, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets.
- Commented that “I don’t think there will be a sea change around Brexit. What I would caution is that we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We have some great regulations and we want to keep those.”
- Also commented that “the sentencing guidelines have been a real game changer. They are a force for good – but there is room for improvement. At Sainsbury’s we have 200,000 employees – and we cannot supervise all of them all of the time. In a business like ours we would be looking at hundreds of thousands pounds in fines. I am not sure that is fair. I feel we are bringing up a generation who don’t understand risk and think the public perception of risk is not helpful. There is a shifting of burden of cost onto business. This is OK if we get credit for this, and I’m not sure we always do.”
Brett Dixon, Vice-President, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers
- One risk of Brexit is that “improvements that have been made will be lost. The Great Repeal Bill is meant to give back control, and EU law will be transposed into domestic legislation. This will force Britain to be competitive and look at deregulation. The HSE will have a crucial and heavier workload. Brexit is a real risk and we need to be very careful about what happens post Brexit.”
Philip White, Head of Operational Strategy, HSE
- Said that the UK has achieved significant reductions in injuries and ill health over the last 40 years, but emphasised “we could be better, as there is still some way to go in many areas, particularly the health agenda.”
- Stated there will be no immediate consequences surrounding the ongoing work of the HSE.
- It is too early to say how Brexit will impact EU driven chemical safety legislation such as REACH and CLP.
In the short to medium term therefore, the recommendation for businesses must be to carry on as you are. Making any assumptions that Brexit has already resulted in any relaxation in legislation, or the enforcement of it, is a significant risk.
Legislation aside of course, protecting the workforce, the equipment they use and the property they work in has always been good for the bottom line. Companies that follow this approach already, rather than viewing worker health and safety as a legal burden, are unlikely to be very much affected.
Stuart Haysman CMIOSH