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Could Brexit cause more accidents at Work?

by Ridley&Hall in Ridley & Hall Solicitors, Samantha Hirst posted June 16, 2016.

By now, most of us have heard the arguments for and against staying in the European Union.  The Brexit backers want to ‘take back control’, with one of the aims to reduce the perceived regulatory burdens on UK businesses caused by Europe which includes health and safety.

Workplace safety is not the sexiest issue surrounding the EU campaign, with many people of the opinion there is too much workplace regulation.  This perception has been fuelled by the media headlining ‘elf and safety madness’ with obscure stories that candy floss on a stick is banned in case people trip and impale themselves!

The fact is that health and safety laws save workers’ lives; between 1974 – 2015 fatal injuries at work have fallen by 86% according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  Trade Unions and other bodies have fought hard over the years for workers’ safety and the UK has some of the best and most effective health and safety regulations in Europe.

In 1989 the European Framework Directive on health and safety at work was adopted and in the UK today we have some of our own laws and others are made under EU Directives.  In 1992 the ‘six pack’ regulations were introduced into English law by the European Commission which included the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.  This places a legal duty on employers to carry out a risk assessment as a first step in ensuring a safe workplace.

So the million dollar question is, would leaving the EU give the government and employers free rein to cut some of the health and safety ‘red tape’ and reduce regulation?

As we have seen with most of the Brexit/Bremain arguments, nobody knows for sure.  Many people believe that fundamental change is unlikely and the foundations will remain.  Norway and Sweden, who are not in the EU have health and safety regulations which largely comply with EU standards.

Kevin Bridges, a health and safety expert says “In the short to medium term, it is unlikely that UK health and safety law would be subject to drastic change. In the longer term the UK could diverge from EU legislation.  Disengagement could well accelerate, and involve a process of determining which primary and secondary health and safety legislation is socially and economically useful to the UK.”

On the other hand TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says “It is clear that voting to leave the EU is a big risk for people’s safety at work.  Brexit could see many of the vital protections that keep workers safe in shops, factories or on building sites stripped away, leaving millions of people at increased risk of accident or injury in the workplace.  The Government has already hinted its readiness to water down key health and safety rules should Britain vote to leave in June.’

Professor Lofststedt (a Swedish academic) recently drafted a report for the government urging consolidation and deregulation of the UK health and safety system.

Sam Hirst Samantha Hirst, specialist in accident at work claims at Ridley & Hall says: “Some employers still see health and safety as a burden, a tick box exercise, which is a dangerous attitude to have.  There is no doubt that some EU directives have led to safer working environments and to water down or remove them if the UK voted to Brexit could be very dangerous for employees, especially in high risk areas like construction and factory work.”

If you have been injured as a result of a breach of health and safety rules, please call Ridley & Hall Solicitors on 01484 558824.

Sam is a litigator at Ridley & Hall who specialises in accident at work claims.  She is able to offer a free 30 minute consultation and no win no fee agreements.

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