Post-EU Referendum – What Happens To Health & Safety Laws in UK?
Guest Post by Bryan Richards that may be of interest to our EU readers with a link to a really neat interactive infographic – also checkout his blog: http://www.arinite.co.uk/bryans-blog/
The European Union has a strict framework of workplace health and safety regulations that apply to all member countries, adopted on the basis of Article 153 of the Lisbon Treaty. It covers all aspects of occupational health and safety: including working environment and conditions; social security and protection of workers; and consultation of employees.
But whilst these laws and directives are binding for the whole of the EU, national legislation and how it is enforced does vary quite a bit between European countries. As this interactive infographic from health and safety consultants Arinite shows, laws and conviction rates vary across Europe – particularly with regards to the Working Time Directive, employee consultation, fire and explosions, and working from height.
On 23rd June, the UK will vote on whether to remain a member of the European Union, or to leave. If the vote is leave, what level of legal impact will there be on the way workplace health and safety is currently regulated?
The Policy Areas That Might Come Under Attack
At present, the UK health and safety legislation regime is a combination of law derived from the UK but formed from EU directives. Recently, there has been a growing discontent over the apparent overzealous application of health and safety law – be this the result of reacting too quickly and harshly to any potential risks, or of extreme enforcement when transposing EU directives into law.
If Britain votes to go independent, then it would have a two-year notice period where existing EU-derived legislation would continue to apply. This period will likely be used by policy makers to reform certain workers’ rights and burdens on business.
These are the areas that may come under attack:
Working Time Rights – while cutting the current 5.6-week holiday entitlement would be an extremely unpopular political move, there could be changes to pay during sick leave.
The Agency Workers Regulations 2010 – this supposedly costs businesses a hefty amount and does little to help agency workers, many of whom are unfamiliar with their rights.
Health and Safety regulations – if they are deemed to be an unnecessary burden on businesses.
What Are The Likely Outcomes For Businesses?
Threats to business partnerships in the EU are put at risk by the referendum, and so if the UK were to leave, it might negotiate membership with the European Trade Organisation (EFTA). This would ensure they at least maintain close trading ties with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, but would also mean new workplace health and safety laws enforced by the EFTA, including on working conditions and employee consultation similar to the EU.
Alternatively, if Britain decides to remain there will be a renegotiation of treaty terms, and new targets set to reduce the burden on key business sectors. Potential cuts to costs for SMEs could also mean a loosening of existing employment and health and safety regulations.
Whatever the result on 23rd June, it’s inevitable that changes to workplace legislation will follow. Leaving the EU could give the UK the authority it needs to shape its own laws, however, it is likely that political considerations, and directives from EFTA, will prevent any immediate radical changes.
About the author
Bryan Richards is a managing partner at health and safety consultants Arinite.