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February 9, 2022

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legislation & guidance

Brexit Freedoms Bill ‘unlikely’ to change health & safety legal landscape

A new Bill is to be brought forward by the government, under plans unveiled by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to mark the two-year anniversary of ‘Getting Brexit Done’.

eu-brexitThe ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill is designed to cut EU red tape, with the aim to make it easier to amend or remove outdated ‘retained EU law’ – legacy EU law kept on the statute book after Brexit as a bridging measure – and will accompany a major cross-government drive to reform, repeal and replace outdated EU law.

These reforms will cut £1 billion of red tape for UK businesses, ease regulatory burdens and contribute to the government’s mission to unite and level up the country.

Many EU laws kept on after Brexit were agreed as a messy compromise between 28 different EU member states and often did not reflect the UK’s own priorities or objectives – nor did many receive sufficient scrutiny in our democratic institutions.

Having left the EU, the focus is on ensuing that regulations are tailor-made to the UK’s own needs. However, under current rules, reforming and repealing this pipeline of outdated EU law would take several years because of the need for primary legislation for many changes, even if minor and technical.

The new legislation will ensure that changes can be made more easily, so that the UK can capitalise on Brexit freedoms more quickly.

The Bill is also expected to end the special status that EU law still has in the UK legal framework. Despite the exit from the bloc, EU laws made before 1 January 2020 continue to have precedence in the domestic framework.

Officials across government are currently reviewing all EU retained laws to determine if they are beneficial to the UK. It is right that people know how much EU-derived law there is and how much progress government is making to reform it, so the government says it will make this catalogue public in due course.

Emma Evans

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “Getting Brexit Done was a truly historic moment and the start of an exciting new chapter for our country.

“We have made huge strides since then to capitalise on our newfound freedoms and restore the UK’s status as a sovereign, independent country that can determine its own future.

“The plans we have set out today will further unleash the benefits of Brexit and ensure that businesses can spend more of their money investing, innovating and creating jobs.

“Our new Brexit Freedoms Bill will end the special status of EU law in our legal framework and ensure that we can more easily amend or remove outdated EU law in future.”

Following the announcement, SHP spoke to two health & safety lawyers, who both agreed that the Bill is unlikely to have a major impact on health & safety law, or the reduction of health and safety protections.

Emma Evans, Legal Director at Brabners, told SHP: “I personally struggle to see how there is likely to be any major change or certainly, de-regulation, to health and safety in the UK.

“Firstly, it is notable that the UK already has one of the lowest fatal injury rates across Europe as a result of our regulatory regime, and industry, and the Government alike, will want this to continue. Having said this, the HSE’s latest statistics reported on 142-workplace deaths (even in a pandemic year), where the average over the last five years has broadly remained static at 136-deaths. Therefore, despite our existing ‘good’ record, this shows more is to be done to drive down and reduce this number, with many businesses striving for ‘zero harm’.

“Secondly, much of the health and safety legislation, primarily the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (and many of its associated regulations) now have a solid foundation and proper basis within British law. Also, changes introduced within the fire and building safety regime, bringing more responsibility to building owners and duty holders, does not signpost to less regulation. Even more highly regulated areas, such as REACH (which originated in Europe), have also been formerly adopted into UK law as of January 2021.

“For all these reasons, I think existing health and safety regulation as we now know it in the UK, is likely to remain largely unchanged. Moving forward, we may see some change/s potentially with the application of EU Directives for things like explosives or work equipment/machinery, by example.

“However, I think it will generally be expected for the UK to continue to comply with EU standards and achieve their level of compliance, to trade effectively. The UK may also have to have regard to any new requirements from EU moving forward, and decide whether to legislate on those separately or somehow adopt them within our existing framework, particularly in relation to things like product safety where there is a strong emphasis on improving standards within the EU.”

Simon Joyston-BechalDr Simon Joyston-Bechal, Director at Turnstone Law, agreed: “It looks as though this initiative could give the Government the opportunity to review the myriad health and safety regulations that originated in EU law and simplify their mechanism to make changes.

“Maybe there are some niche technical regulations that could be changed; and, of course, watering down health and safety could be part of a ‘red meat’ populist agenda. However, I have seen nothing to suggest a political shift towards reducing health and safety protections.

“I would be interested in any comments from readers as to what regulations they think might benefit from revision – now is the time to pursue any sensible suggestions. Nonetheless, I hope I am not being naïve in thinking this is more puff than substance in so far as it might impact health and safety.”

What are your thoughts? Comment below…

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Frank Sheppard
Frank Sheppard
2 years ago

I am somewhat hopeful that the existing H&S regulations will be improved rather than in some cases watered down. One thing I am happy with is the carrying over of the reach regulations concerning hazards the claw regs while in place could be more effective if they were Placed in a new set of regulations which included Asbestos silica lead paint legionella and all other hazards. The general attitude to paint dust is greatly underscored and should have more prominence attached to it. If you like yo hear more about what is being done to raise awareness of lead paint… Read more »

2 years ago
Reply to  Frank Sheppard

I’ve been involved in challenging Oil based paints , as they are Carcinogenic. Read WHO report on Oil based paints in this country hundreds have died. Never mind about lead based paints.