19 May, 2022

Safe Brexit

01 February, 2019

One of the fundamental expectations in any workplace is that the workforce is able to about its daily activities without any undue risk of injury. Of course, different professions can potentially pose different levels of bodily risk, but it remains a given that regardless of the job at hand workers should be able to return home at the end of their daily tasks uninjured and fit for another day’s productivity.

With Brexit firmly on the agenda, the question of continued effective health & safety standards naturally arises. Indeed, the British Safety Council has reiterated its demand that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU must not in any way erode the progress made in the UK over the past four decades on workplace health, safety and welfare standards, together with the protection of workers’ rights and product safety. The adoption of EU directives into the UK legislative framework has been instrumental in the continual improvement in these areas, resulting in dramatic reductions in workplace fatalities and injuries, as well as enhanced recognition of occupational health issues.

Lawrence Waterman, chairman of the British Safety Council, reminded us that the Government has repeatedly stated there are safeguards for employment protections in the backstop – the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement’s arrangements that will be triggered and hold sway until all parties agree to a comprehensive trade policy. However, in Parliament, in answer to some probing questions, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox admitted in December 2018 that these clauses are ‘not enforceable’.

Waterman added that the politicians, who brought us the assertion that ‘health & safety is a burden on business’ and a commitment to destroy health & safety culture, are now going back on their previous declaration that employment rights and environmental protections are safeguarded under their deal due to the presence of non-regression clauses. “It has now been admitted that these clauses are not enforceable internationally by the EU institutions or by the arbitration mechanisms under the Withdrawal Agreement, claiming that this gave the UK ‘regulatory flexibility’ during the backstop,” he said. “This reinforces the British Safety Council’s view that we shall need to watch developments closely to protect hard-won worker protections.”

Waterman is calling on other champions of health & safety, such as RoSPA and IOSH, to join with the British Safety Council and others to ensure the UK’s high standards in workplace health & safety are defended whatever the outcome of the Brexit process.

A sustained, even improved, health & safety regime post-Brexit is imperative. An alternative strategy could have dire consequences for workers as well as having major ramifications for companies from the perspective of legal redress and brand damage. Brexit has proven to be anything but a straightforward process; nevertheless, worker safety must remain paramount.

Ed Holden


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