Health and Safety Law After Brexit

Once Britain leaves the EU, its health and safety laws will no longer be required to follow EU legislation. What does this mean for you and your business?

Close-up picture of tools overlaid by a Union Jack flag

The official advice from the HSE states that your obligations to protect people’s health and safety will not change with Brexit – in other words, UK businesses will continue to be held to existing health and safety standards, at least in the short term.

However, as with everything to do with our impending exit from the EU: it’s complicated.

What actually happens when we leave?

On the day of exit, The Health and Safety (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 will come into force – regardless of whether we leave with or without a deal. These regulations are designed to ensure continuity of legal protection for workers and others from work-related risks.

Specifically, there will be amendments to 11 sets of regulations and one directly acting EU regulation, including changes to the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015; the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002; the Offshore Installations (Offshore Safety Directive) Regulations 2015; and the Offshore Installations (Prevention of Fire and Explosion, and Emergency Response) Regulations 1995.

So I’ve got nothing to worry about?

That’s not necessarily true. If we leave without a deal, some UK and EU regulatory agencies will be required to operate independently from each other, which will have important implications for businesses in certain sectors.

For example, if your business is involved in the import or export of food, import notifications will no longer be possible through the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES), and a certificate will be needed to export certain products to the EU.

Similarly, REACH legislation (concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) will also be affected in a no-deal scenario. This means that UK companies supplying and purchasing chemicals to and from the EU will need to ensure that products are registered separately with both EU and UK agencies, in order to maintain or gain access to both markets.

Other businesses that are likely to be affected include those trading in biocides, pesticides and explosives – the HSC has issued detailed guidance on operating in these markets in a no-deal situation.

What are the long-term implications?

Since the UK joined the EU in 1973, it has been required to comply with rigorous EU laws designed to protect the health and safety of workers. Whether or not it continues to uphold these standards voluntarily post-Brexit is largely a political issue.

Any new trade deals the UK makes outside of the EU could affect its domestic health and safety regulation. Should the countries and groups we trade with have more relaxed standards and different views on, for example, pollution, there could well be subsequent changes to our regulations controlling noise, vibration, or airborne dusts.

This will have a knock-on effect when we want to trade with countries that still have those high safety standards. Will they accept our new ‘trimmed down’ health and safety legislation?

Of course, the ideal scenario is that our future partners insist upon the same high standards that we currently have in the UK. But with such a high degree of uncertainty surrounding even the short-term implications of Brexit, the reality of the longer-term remains to be seen.

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Regan Peggs
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