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What's the Brexit strategy?

13 June 2016

By the time you hold the next copy of HSM the nation will have voted in the European Union Referendum to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU.

The historic Referendum has created intense debate, with conflicting information being provided by both sides of the fence, to a public that can only possibly tick ‘Don’t Know’ with any sense of confidence. Little surprise when both 'In' and 'Out' supporters often provide the same argument: The economy would be worse if we stay in / a Brexit would cause another Credit Crunch - or Crexit Brunch.

But let’s imagine for a moment: If the UK left the EU, what might that mean for health and safety in the UK?

Critics of Brussels claim that EU regulations create excessive red tape and hinder business competition, particularly in relation to small-to-medium sized companies. One of the biggest culprits, according to these critics, is health and safety.

Leigh Hayman, founding director at consultancy 4see believes this is not fair: "The UK has always been ahead of the pack in this area," he asserts. "The Factories Act was passed way back in 1833 and the foundation for current legislation in the UK stems from the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.
"The EU Framework Directive is implemented in Great Britain by the 1999 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, which requires employers to evaluate, avoid and reduce workplace risks."

Health and safety continues to mature, to improve and it certainly leads the way in Europe and most of the world. The HSE, OSH and UK consultancies are highly sought after in regions of the world looking to catch up with UK safety standards and skip the growing pains that has led to 'elf and safety'.

So will health and safety change if the UK leaves the EU? According to Hayman, no: "There are quite a few reasons, but here are a few of the more persuasive.
"It works! Work place incidents and cases of ill-health have continuously reduced since the introduction of health and safety related regulations. It would be an extremely brave government to introduce measures to relax or reduce health and safety legislative requirements that, in all likelihood, could reverse this trend. If this was to happen, the pressure from trades unions around worker safety would quickly rise.

"We are in a global market and standardisation is a key requirement across multi-national companies. Having standardised regulations allows multi-nationals to effectively produce and implement policy and monitor performance throughout all regions they operate in. Small to medium sized companies may not have the same need to standardise, but most work for, with or through large organisations, and would still have to meet these health and safety requirements that, in all likelihood, wouldn’t change if the UK Regulations were relaxed.”

And there are moral reasons. The majority of employers really do want to keep their workforce safe and healthy. Most companies perceive legislative requirements as the absolute minimum and have implemented health and safety systems that far outweigh this as they know that effective health and safety has huge cost savings.

Hayman believes that in time there may be a subtle change in health and safety legislation if the UK did leave: "Some legislation could be altered or amended to suit the UK socio-economic climate at the time, but it wouldn’t reduce requirements,” he observes. “If anything it would just reduce the administrative burden around health and safety. Although, we are well on the way to that anyway.”

So it seems that if you are basing your decision on a complete reversal and relaxation of health and safety regulations then you might be disappointed!