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Richard Clarke, is senior EHS consultant at Cedrec

June 7, 2016

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How leaving the EU could affect health and safety

european-union-155207_640As part of its regular work with professionals in the fields of environment and health and safety, who are charged with implementing European legal requirements, legislation analysts Cedrec have conducted an extensive poll of more than 500 of its subscribers on whether the UK should remain part of the EU. Richard Clarke, senior EHS consultant at Cedrec, discusses the poll’s findings. This article was originally published in October 2015.

The coming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union will be one of the big political issues of the next 12 months. Many people may be influenced on which way they vote in the referendum based on whether their jobs are dependent on, or influenced by, the EU.

It is clear that every industry is in some way under the influence of the EU, whether through EU Regulations, which apply directly to UK law, or Directives, which mean our legal system is obligated to introduce UK legislation to bring in its provisions.

Poll participants are drawn from safety, health and environment professionals, working across a range of industry sectors. The poll found that 54.2 per cent of respondents support the United Kingdom remaining as members of the EU, while 36.1 per cent would vote to leave. However, with nearly 10 per cent yet to decide, the outcome could still be in the balance.

The results suggest a less than resounding level of support for Europe, from those dealing with the legal implications of membership on a daily basis. Comments from both sides of the debate will make claims for and against the effects of European membership, from the value of harmonised regulations to the risk of excessive red tape. But the question that stands out from the results is a simple one; does your job depend on European Union membership?

Cedrec is well placed to understand to what degree EU Membership influences environmental and health and safety legal requirements. Whilst most professionals will be familiar with EU Regulations which are directly applicable in UK law, less may be aware that many UK Statutory Instruments exist because a European Union Directive obliged the UK government to introduce domestic legislation on given topic areas. Taking a specific example, the Energy Efficiency Directive has so far resulted in 28 individual UK Regulations, including the currently relevant ESOS requirements.

On many levels, it appears that the day to day responsibilities of environment and health and safety professional’s directly stem from legal requirements derived set by Europe. Whether such regulations would remain in force following a ‘Brexit’ is interesting to consider, especially as one of the main claims of the ‘Out’ campaign is based on the need to reduce regulatory burdens on business caused by Europe.

There appears to be a trend of solid EU support from the environmental sector. The Conservative Party previously declared themselves part of the “greenest ever government”. However, this current government appears to be undermining many of the environmental policies in place. Such decisions may be at odds with EU level agreements to which the UK is party, which have pushed for energy efficiency targets with stringent deadlines.

On the occupational safety side, the argument for a Brexit is further weakened. Under the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the UK ceded authority to the EU regarding the working environment to protect workers’ health and safety. This transfer of authority would be difficult to reverse, and even if it were to come about, the UK has come to expect certain rights and standard working environments in line with that of the EU.

There is however another picture emerging. Developments in Europe suggest that a legal high tide watershed may have been reached, and that in future, Europe may become a strong force for deregulation. Internally in the EU, the ongoing Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) is reviewing whether regulations can be removed, or consolidated. In 2014, a total of 53 legislative proposals were withdrawn, with EU REFIT reporting that since 2006, more than 6,100 acts have been replaced.

Meanwhile, ongoing negotiations between Europe and America on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement are setting the parameters for regulatory harmonisation which may well see many more legal requirements being revoked. The future for Europe may actually be one of driving simplified and reduced compliance requirements. In the event of a Brexit, the UK may choose to retain these regulations.

It is still early in the debate about the UK’s future in Europe. However, environment and health and safety professionals should start to consider to what degree the European Union is responsible for creating the conditions that support their role; and what a future of the United Kingdom either in or out of Europe might look like.

Hear Kizzy Augustin, Pinsent Masons LLP, discuss the effects of a Brexit on the health and safety profession at the exhibition in June. Register for Safety & Health Expo today.

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What Has the EU Ever Done for Health and Safety? EXPLAINEDBrexit: Where Does this Leave UK EHS Legislation? -Brexit: Where does this leave UK EHS Legislation? |Paul LindridgeChris Macartney Recent comment authors
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Chris Packham
Chris Packham

If we were to leave the EU we would still effectively be bound by many of their regulations if we wished to sell into the EU market. For example, if we wished to continue to sell chemicals into the EU marketplace then presumably someone within the EU would have to ensure that they were all appropriately registered with the ECHA. We would be outside the EU and would, under current rules, require someone within the EU to hold the registrations. The question needs to be addressed as to whether a simple transfer of the current registrations to an organisation within… Read more »

Paul webber
Paul webber

Interesting article and good to see impartiality in this type of article. It’s sometimes difficult for me to identify impartiality because of my strong view in favour of distancing ourselves from the EU. I was therefore obviously disappointed at the percentage of ‘professionals’ in our line of work wishing to stay in the EU. Surely we all agree that the UK could do so much better; create better legislation or adopt EU principles when we want to, rather than when we’re told. To think that people still want to be governed by unelected, incompetent, bureaucrats is beyond me. We should… Read more »

Kevin Baddeley
Kevin Baddeley

Well said Paul.

A Coleman
A Coleman

Well said!!

Steven Morris
Steven Morris

Thank goodness for the EU, without them the UK would be such an unsafe place and wouldn’t be grown up enough to produce regulation all on it’s own.

Paul Webber
Paul Webber

Steven, I think you will find the UK have some of the best advocates of safety in the world.Putting down the UK’s ability isn’t something I’d go along with. I thought “an unsafe place” was more about staying within the EU.

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

Before anyone decides which way to vote I suggest that they consult the Lisbon Treaty, the document to which we have signed up to and which sets out the conditions on which a country can leave the EU. The relevant part is article 30. If you read this you will see that the terms on which a country may leave are determined by the EU itself. There is no mention in this article about ‘negotiations’. Also, the term within which we have to agree these terms is limited to two years. If this period expires prior to the reaching of… Read more »

Philip Kay
Philip Kay

Why does it seem to be assumed that on leaving the EU the UK would not implement or maintain legislation to the same or better standard than in the EU. This already happens – whilst many of the EU countries ignore or turn a blind eye to EU H&S legislation, the UK is perhaps the forerunner in implementation and policing of the existing regulations. Anyone who has been to Greece, for example, would know this. The EU have not forced our hand – as a country I believe that we are committed to occupational health and safety. Exiting would merely… Read more »

Paul Webber
Paul Webber

hear hear!

Barry Cooper
Barry Cooper

I have to agree with Paul Webber the articles was very impartial which makes a change. I am strongly in favour of leaving the EU and was also surprised at the number of H&S professionals wanting to stay in the EU. The UK can do much better; create good legislation and/or adopt EU directives if it decides to, again rather than being told to. I do not want to be governed by unelected, wasteful bureaucrats of an organisation are accountable to no one. I believe Europe needs the UK because of the amount of business it does with us, which… Read more »

Jim
Jim

There is far too much trying to scare people one way or the other. You’d think we didn’t have any H&S legislation before we joined. Has anyone noticed the lack of enforced H&S regulation in other EU countries? The other EU countries want us to stay in because we pay a lot of money in (if you remember, the rebates were recently given back by our Chancellor due to our debt for having a good economy). The Brexiteers promise that we will have good times again without giving us any proof. The Greens think that we will suddenly burn coal… Read more »

Richard Preston
Richard Preston

Most manufacturing in the far east does not meet current EU legislation on some many fronts that its hard to list them all and I have not seen that affecting what we buy from them or to use the food industries terms the air miles that are generated by having so much manufacturing located so far away.

Chris Ayre
Chris Ayre

Not sure why everyone is bleating about trade agreements, the title of the article is ‘How leaving the EU could affect health and safety’. I am absolutely dumbfounded with some of the responses. Leaving the EU will have no impact is H&S, well maybe it may improve because of the issues with foreign workers that are used by many companies will not be allowed… and I have witnessed that incidents with foreign workers are not reported. Lets be clear, we are governed by UK laws and regulations and quite frankly I believe the UK lead in many aspects of H&S.… Read more »

Peter Rimmer
Peter Rimmer

The basic issue is about how right-wing politicians – Gove, Grayling et al – would jump at the opportunity to de-regulate and remove the basic rights of workers to fair and decent working conditions, including safe and healthy workplaces. Outside the EU they would de-regulate asap.
The arguments about working conditions outside the EU and levels of compliance within the EU are largely irrelevant. A vote for the ‘Leave’ campaign is a vote for 19th century working conditions. Or worse, with ‘Leave’ campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg described as ‘the Honourable Member for the 18th Century’!!

Paul Webber
Paul Webber

Strange way of looking at it Peter, “19th century working conditions”. The scare tactics of the Remain bunch seems to be convincing some people. It reminds me of Hans Christian Andersons story “The Emperor’s new clothes”. The Government say something and some just go along with it. Leave campaigners are passionate to take the country forward. If “they would de-regulate asap”, the country can vote to change things. How’s that for a good idea. We may need to agree to disagree about that. My real concern, going back to the title of the article; we all need to be mindful… Read more »

Peter Rimmer
Peter Rimmer

The truth is often stranger than fiction, Paul! We have an excellent health and safety regime in the UK based on robust scientific, medical and technical evidence and research, sensible regulation and effective enforcement, bound together by information and clear communications. However, if you salami slice the regulator (HSE), and most other regulators, to such an extent that they cease to be effective, all of this counts for nothing. The current government has reduced the budget, and therefore the effectiveness, of HSE to such an extent that it will wither on the vine in five or six years. Supporters of… Read more »

Paul Webber
Paul Webber

Hi Peter, I agree with you about the reduced budget for HSE being not such a good thing but I, (and many colleagues), wouldn’t support accelerating its demise. We all need to elect our government officials based on their attitude to safety and care for people’s health. I also agree we, in the UK, have some of the best safety professionals and culture. My point about H&S being a laughing stock is due to some of the poorly written and sometimes unnecessary EU directives and we do our best to comply with it all, (unlike many other EU countries). Let’s… Read more »

Paul Cookson
Paul Cookson

Well i’m glad all those wishing to exit have sufficient finances to cover the uncertainty of whatever may happen. But sticking to H+S, it seems to me as though the people running companies seem to think that suddenly they will not have to comply with anything H+S related or owe any moral obligations to those affected by their business. With that in mind, do you think that people with day to day responsibility of ensuring H+S as their job will still find the bosses funding the next initiative you come up with, or continue buying the better quality PPE, or… Read more »

Paul Webber
Paul Webber

Hi Paul I think many of the health and safety regulation would stay, or at least in principle. Many enforcement actions are taken under the UK’s Health and Safety at Work Act. A very successful piece of legislation and one we should all be very proud of. You mention “it’s really not that bad being in”. I think the real risks of staying in are far more worrying. I’ve followed this subject for many years, (I can remember life outside the EU, just). I’ve asked Ladbrokes for the odds of a complete collapse of the EU as we know it… Read more »

Paul Cookson
Paul Cookson

Hi Paul, (non health and safety answer) I have no personal knowledge of how it was pre-EU, and we are obviously at quite different stages of personal life/career i’m guessing. As I said, I’m sure that in 5, 10, 15 years it may well be better, but at what cost before that stage. I’m sure that if I were financially secure or didn’t have a family I would be far happier to roll the dice and make the jump into the unknown. Perhaps even if there were more backing from “sensible” high profile people and nations I may even take… Read more »

Paul Webber
Paul Webber

I can understand your feeling regarding family/financial security, although having followed this for so many years now, I actually believe there’s a very significant risk of economic ruin by staying in. (Whoops that sounds like ‘campaign fear’. Fully appreciate the views either way though. Let’s hope the outcome is good in the long term whichever way it goes.
As for H&S, I don’t think there will be many radical changes. It would be nice to think the EU Regs might become only ACOPs and used to support the H&S at Work Act.

Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson

We seem to be forgetting that the political make up of England and Wales will change significantly if we vote to leave the EU with a likely second referendum on Scottish Independence. Given that the Conservative party would be a significant majority in parliament without Scottish MP’s for decades to come, we should be asking how will the they treat H&S legislation without the EU looking over their shoulder. Personally, I can’t see them doing anything other than removing the very building blocks of our good safety standards to ‘reduce burdens’ on business, and free our economy from the ‘shackles… Read more »

Peter Rimmer
Peter Rimmer

Exactly Phil. You have hit the nail firmly on the head.

Tim Marsh
Tim Marsh

We can all agree that the EU is the very definition of a neo liberal, beaurocratic, self interested cabal. However, if we leave we get Michael Gove, Boris and Nigel making laws about HSE. Somewhere between the sea, (deep blue), & devil anyone?

Chris Macartney
Chris Macartney

Reading this article was unfortunatley a waste of time as I expected some sort of insight into the potential implications of Brexit to HSE professionals.

Paul Lindridge
Paul Lindridge

The health and safety at work etc. Act is pre EU legislation and therefore I cannot see any substantive change in relation to health and safety.

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What Has the EU Ever Done for Health and Safety? EXPLAINED

[…] The UK controls to what extent it will follow EU health and safety legislation with transposition notes. These are amendments that accompany EU Directives and they are the UK’s way of implementing EU regulation in a way that best works for British businesses and British people. Depending on how you feel about a particular EU Directive, the fact that the British government can’t simply overturn it may be something you support. To give just one example, much of the UK’s commitment to environmental safety, an increasingly important part health and safety, comes from its adherence to EU law. […]