Will BREXIT affect Health & Safety in the UK?

Now that we are starting to see some positive progression with COVID-19, we can start to look at other pressing matters.  Like, will Brexit affect health and safety in the UK?

Thankfully largely ignored during the pandemic, Brexit is still going on in the background, and the UK is still due to officially leave the EU at the end of the year.  Whatever your views on the situation, undeniably, this is an issue that will continue to impact life in the UK for some years to come, and health and safety will be a major area of concern.

Before COVID-19 managed to leap out of an unregulated Chinese wet-market (probably), Brexit was a term that you couldn’t get away from, but more pressing issues of health rather kicked it into the long grass.  But it is still there, and people are still working on it, and it will still have a sizeable impact on Health and Safety issues in the UK.

What has the HSE stated about Brexit?

While there is a good deal of uncertainty, about actualities, the Health &Safety Executive (HSE) has stated that, in the absence of specifics, companies should continue to use the legislation that they have and manage their business risk in a proportionate way.  In addition, the HSE is stating that UK companies should conform to existing EU and UK legislation unless it has been specifically targeted to be not included. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 states that, from 1 January 2021, certain directly applicable EU legislation will be converted into UK law, so there should be a smooth transition.

While there are many areas where there are likely to be modifications to make legislation particular to the UK, there are currently no complete withdrawals by the UK Government, so things should stay pretty stable for the foreseeable future. 

What health and safety laws have changed so far?

But what has changed? For a start, the UK has converted three EU-wide health and safety directives into UK law:

  • The Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019,
  • The Health and Safety (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, and,
  • The Health and Safety (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018.

There have also been changes to a number of other instruments concerning the regulation of chemicals, such as The Pesticides and Fertilisers (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, The Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and The REACH etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

By agreeing to adopt these kinds of Health & safety legislation into UK, we can be assured that the transition as it stands with be fairly seamless.  However, there are concerns that a hard, “no deal” Brexit might have a negative impact on many parts of the economy, including heath and safety issues, with REACH – the restriction of chemicals – perhaps being the most notable.  The Government has stated that in instance, almost identical legislation would be created in the UK, and companies would already have a register of chemicals, so there would be little difference initially.

However, a solely UK-based version of the REACH legislation would need to be administered by the HSE, and while they would probably fall in line with sister European organisations, there may start to be differences between the EU and the UK.  Obviously, a hard or no deal Brexit would also mirror this scenario with other legislation, and a greater diversion between us may occur.  If taken to extremes, this may lead to instances where the EU refuses to take certain products because they fail to meet EU directives, or even vice versa, with the UK.

Brexit will be finalised this year, and we will keep you abreast of changes and updates to health and safety legislation as it happens.

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