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Will Brexit change health and safety in the UK?

Posted on 18th Jan, 2021 | By Lorretta Tatham

As of the 1st of January 2021, the UK has officially completed its exit from the European Union. It was – and remains – a highly contentious decision, but there was definitely one thing everyone could agree on: the agreement of a deal came right at the last moment. New rules for business for the EU have now begun for January 2021, so naturally, one of the biggest questions for many business owners is this: what are the most likely effects on our health and safety regulations here in the UK? And what should businesses do to prepare for them?

Are there any big changes coming soon?

It seems highly unlikely. The government has stated that the majority of health and safety will remain unaffected by the end of the transition period, and that business owners and managers should continue adhering to the same high standards as they ever have done.

The UK Health and Safety Executive has provided further clarity by saying that it will make only minor changes to health and safety law, and a significant part of that will simply involve removing EU references in its regulations. Crucially, the key legal requirements will remain the same.

Even after January 2021, the current consensus is that the government is unlikely to make any immediate or sweeping changes to UK health and safety legislation. If and when changes are eventually made, they’re more likely to be concerned with simplifying the existing regulations rather than removing or drastically altering them.

However, there is an understandable concern at the moment focused on the issue of future trade deals with non-EU countries, and how the government will manage negotiations. Specifically, some elements of health and safety law may be at risk of being at least partially deregulated as a product of these negotiations, especially since UK companies are no longer bound by EU law to continually improve working conditions for its employees.

Now, the courts may prove a moderating influence in this regard – up until now, they have played a vital role in ensuring that UK health and safety regulations remain aligned with the wording and purpose of European Union law. The UK is commonly regarded as a world leader in health and safety, so there’s likely to be strong pressure on the government from various industries to ensure that we maintain that status.

Smaller impending changes to UK law

So, while we’ve established that it’s supremely unlikely we’ll see any dramatic changes for the time being, there are a few specific changes to regulations that are already in effect – or will be very shortly – all of which business owners will need to be aware of.

men with checklist

REACH, civil explosives, and CLP

REACH refers to the EU regulations on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, which were incorporated into UK law under the European Union Withdrawal Act. Now that we have left the European Union, REACH and similar European laws will be replicated in the UK with some amendments, effectively remaining in force throughout the transition.

Similarly, the HSE has also released further clarification regarding the secure management of civil explosives. Another branch of legislation which will remain effective with only a few amendments is the 2008 Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging.

Placing products for use at work on the EU or GB market

The UK’s exit from the European single market also has implications for any manufacturing businesses wishing to supply their goods to member states of the EU and EEA, and Switzerland, as they must meet the EU single market rules for product conformity, and demonstrate this with an appropriate CE marking.

Similarly, any business which supplies goods or products onto the UK market must meet amended GB rules for product conformity, and demonstrate this commitment with the use of a new UKCA marking. More details can be found on the HSE’s page for supplying work equipment.

Buying new machinery

UK rules for buying new equipment and machinery have also been updated for 2021, ensuring that anything placed on the market meets the appropriately high standards of safety and compliancy. To this end, the HSE has released a dedicated leaflet for purchasing managers, and anyone else whose responsibility it is to buy new machinery for use at work.

The legislation itself has been updated to accommodate the fact that the UK is no longer a member state of the EU, and account for the revisions made to other relevant UK product laws in the last few years. It’s worth noting that the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 remain in force, even after Britain’s exit from the EU.

These are just broad strokes of course, and what we’ve outlined above is all true at the time of writing. In case you’re ever unsure of something specific, it’s always best to first consult the official guidance on the government or HSE website. On the other hand, if you need guidance or training on other work-related issues such as asbestos, manual handling or Working at Height, that’s exactly where we can help here at Browns Safety.

Since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we also now offer a comprehensive range of online safety courses. We are currently taking bookings for these courses, so if you’d like to reserve your places, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can click through to the main course pages listed above, or alternatively contact us directly by calling us on 01282 615517, or emailing us on info@brownssafetyservices.co.uk.

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