Is Britain’s gold standard of Health and Safety under threat from Brexit? 

When it comes to Health & Safety, the United Kingdom has been a pioneer, with an enviable reputation throughout the rest of Europe for occupational safety and health. Now, with 51.9% of Britons voting to leave the EU and with the triggering of article 50 possibly only a matter of weeks away, what impact will leaving the European Union have on the way we implement and maintain safety in the workplace?

With a record for health and safety in Europe that is second to none, the UK’s reputation for reducing accidents and injuries in the workplace is recognised internationally. Yet there has long been a perception in some quarters that excessive H&S regulation is a burden to small and medium sized businesses and that by cutting ties with Europe will in turn mean cutting out the “needless red tape” which has been stifling businesses for so long.

Since the result of the referendum was announced last year, there certainly does not seem to have been the economic meltdown that many so-called experts had predicted. In the case of Boss Training, we are busier now than ever before, with traditional classroom based courses at full capacity as well as our new asbestos online training course going from strength to strength.

That said, we are still, for the immediate future a member of the EU, so the impact on the economy of leaving may not be felt for some time.

So, what will the potential effect of Brexit mean to Health and Safety?

Well, probably not as much as some would have you believe at least in the short term.

Only about 10% of H&S laws were implemented by the EU, so in day to day terms there should be no noticeable change. However, it should be noted that the government could, sooner or later remove these or other laws from the statute books. Existing legislation would need to remain though for at least two years whilst the renegotiation process of the details of Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe took place.

Concerns about safety and human rights in the medium to long-term as we take steps into the unknown are valid. Can the government be trusted to maintain standards particularly when the reduction of free movement could inevitably lead to further skills shortages, particularly in high risk sectors like construction where a large percentage of the workforce is made up of migrant labour.

A significant skills gap can intensify workplace stress as staff are expected to work longer hours and perform tasks which they are not trained to do. Should there be an economic downturn post Brexit as many are predicting, companies may be less willing to invest in promoting a culture of safety training which in turn could potentially turn back the clock in terms of workplace safety in general.

On the other hand, Brexit could be a wonderful opportunity for businesses to thrive and grow in new  markets. As safety professionals, however, we must remain vigilant and encourage a proactive approach to health and safety whatever the outcome.