Will leaving Europe throw off the shackles of Health and Safety law for UK businesses?
It is natural to ask if Britain is no longer in Europe does that mean Health and Safety Regulations, many of which derive from EU law and are entwined in UK legislation will no longer be applicable to UK businesses.
Firstly, the UK would need to give 2 years notice of leaving the EU and so no changes would happen in that period. However, the fact is that if we leave Europe then decisions on health and safety law will be made by our own government, and so over time health and safety law will change according to the will of the particular government of the day.
Our current health and safety regime is lauded across Europe as one which is extremely successful. Work related deaths have decreased from 350 per year in 1995/1996 to 142 in 2014/2015.
The Health and Safety Executive are sought after in other jurisdictions for their expertise on workplace health and safety, and most commentators seem of the opinion that for these reasons little is likely to change.
The new Health and Safety sentencing guidelines which came into force in February this year dictate significantly increased penalties for businesses breaching health and safety offences, so there is no sign of any move away from a stringent health and safety regime.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 underpins all of the EU Regulations which have been transposed into UK law, it seems unlikely that such a successful and little amended piece of legislation would be significantly amended if we do leave the EU and it is this legislation which includes the requirement on business to go as far as is reasonably practicable to keep their employees safe.
Some larger international companies appreciate the uniformity of regulations across Europe as it is convenient for them to comply with when operating in a variety of jurisdictions. In terms of environmental law, the challenges tend to be international and subject to international agreements and for product safety law, we will need to continue to comply with requirements of countries we wish to trade with, and so in those areas there may be little scope for change. For smaller companies whilst a reduction in any burden I'm sure would be greatly appreciated, it seems an unlikely outcome of leaving the EU.
If the UK votes to leave the EU, the government would be able to decide whether or not to keep protections derived from EU laws. There is no guarantee that they would keep health & safety legislation at its current level. In fact the government has indicated it wants to reduce this so-called ‘red tape’ of EU protection.