Brexit could cost you an arm and a leg! – EUmatters


Published on May 17th, 2016 | by Prospect


Brexit could cost you an arm and a leg!

By Sarah Page, Prospect Research Officer

With the UK having an exemplary health and safety record, some may question the European Union’s value to worker protection: does the EU make any difference?

For opponents of EU membership, the deregulatory ’red tape’ bandwagon is available to jump on. It gained considerable impetus in 2010 when the Coalition Government took office and has been trundling around the EU, forcefully steered by David Cameron’s Conservative administration.

Claims in the UK that we have ‘gold-plated’ health and safety law prompted a series of government-sponsored reviews and the ‘red tape challenge’. However their analyses, including reports from Professor Löfstedt, Director of King’s Centre for Risk Management, and Martin Temple, former director-general of the EEF, could find no evidence; while the true problem tarnishing the reputation of health and safety regulation – that is, media-generated myths – have been largely debunked by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) through its very successful campaign. Hopefully you have noticed the welcome decline in health and safety being ridiculed. But you may not be aware of the extent to which the deregulatory agenda has found favour in Europe.

So returning to the question – does this matter? – my reaction is a resounding yes! Particularly when donning a trade union lens in place of a health and safety practitioner lens. As a practitioner and former HSE inspector, I recognise the successes that have been achieved through our legal framework generating a mature health and safety culture in many organisations and sectors. The construction industry epitomises advancing standards when you consider the internationally-acclaimed success of the construction of the London 2012 Olympics site against its dark fatal accident past. The UK has set new health and safety benchmarks for the world.

However, it would be jingoistic to ignore the EU influence when you also recognise the project’s emphasis on health and relative appreciation of the needs of migrant workers. So perhaps it is no surprise that, also in 2012, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) published an evaluation of the implementation of EU regulation which concluded favourably that ‘The current portfolio of health and safety legislation and Approved Codes of Practice has contributed immeasurably to health and safety in the UK.’

Yet for me it is the trade union frame of reference that most strongly influences my personal take on the European question. As a torchbearer of the union effect – that is, the proven reduction in worker accidents and ill-health when our health and safety representatives are effectively involved in health and safety decision-making – I am unequivocal about its vital contribution to protecting the UK workforce. This relies heavily on social dialogue and while the Health and Safety at Work Act, the law providing for worker consultation, predates the Single European Act, it is Europe we have to thank for the provisions and guidance that support a collaborative approach. This is informed in part by the tradition of works councils that is the norm in other member states.

Consider too ‘risk assessment’, a pragmatic approach at the heart of today’s health and safety management success. The implication to risk assess is there in the Health and Safety at Work Act, but it is the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations that make explicit the duty on employers to risk assess as a means of identifying appropriate precautions. The Management Regulations formed part of the ‘6 pack’ UK response to the 1989 health and safety Framework Directive.

These are merely two examples of how the EU has strengthened health and safety protection for UK workers, giving us a stronger voice and say in risk control measures. Other examples include the requirements of our regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, which has had to tighten some UK law: for instance, on asbestos.

Prospect members will know all too well how hard-hit HSE has been by reviews, cuts and ministerial interference and that it is alarmingly stretched. We should be thankful therefore that we as workers, and as HSE stakeholders, are protected by the powers vested in our EU allegiance. Brexit could cost us an arm, a leg…. who knows what price? Far better to seek to improve the EU from within than risk what TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says: ‘Bad bosses will be rubbing their hands with glee if Brexit gives them the chance to cut workers’ hard-won protections.’


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2 Responses to Brexit could cost you an arm and a leg!

  1. Steve Eggar says:

    Unfortunately there is evidence that multi-country approaches to introducing new legislation does not always work that well e.g. the new ISO45001 suffering a setback recently:-

    Participating members – the national standards bodies elected to work on the development of the draft international standard (DIS) – were balloted between 12 February and 12 May on whether to approve it.

    Seventy-one per cent voted in favour, with 28% against (1% abstained). For the DIS to have passed, two-thirds of members had to be in favour and less than a quarter against, taking into account abstentions.

    Full article:-

    Admittedly this was the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) committee which has members outside of the EU.

  2. sarah page says:


    Thanks for your input at a time when we have much to think about.

    First, the importance of legislation and indeed regulation. There’s not much point to law if it’s not enforced. Prospect therefore worries with other unions and the TUC about the UK government’s deregulatory approach to health and safety law AND our principal regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, which has been impacted hugely by under-resourcing and political interference. It’s teeth have been seriously ground down.

    Second, we need to understand that a standard such as an ISO is NOT legislation. It is what it says on the tin: a standard. Call it a voluntary code. Standards can have a really useful place in supporting good practice. But whereas the UK health and safety regulatory system is underpinned by TRIPARTISM – ie the state, business and unions grappling with standards that enable business without disabling workers – standard-setting bodies like ISO and BSI seek to create a product they can sell. They largely operate without worker or union input and price their publications out of our reach.

    It is one of the reasons the EU is soooo important to us: it too adopts the principles of state, business and worker voices. They call it SOCIAL DIALOGUE.

    It’s good to know that Prospect is aligned with the health and safety competence IOSH promotes. But let’s remember just how important workers’ voices are to ensuring health and safety decisions are tolerable to the people who work with the risks their task masters set.

    Sarah Page, Prospect H&S

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