Brexit – what it means for health & safety
Health, safety and environment lawyers and campaigners are increasingly speculating about the implications of a possible British exit from the EU as the nation prepares for a referendum on the subject on 23 June 2016.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is arguing strongly that workplace safety and other employment rights underpinned by EU rules would be at risk if the UK votes to leave in the June referendum.
A recent TUC report on the subject says that decisions on which rights to keep — and which to amend or drop altogether — would be left to the government as it reviewed all UK laws linked to the EU.
In particular, the TUC predicts that working time rules and UK health and safety laws covering a wide range of hazards underpinned and extended by EU legislation “could be in the firing line”. Trade unionists believe other safety rights under threat could be those covering young workers, temporary workers and new and expectant mothers.
Patrick McGuire of Thompsons Solicitors said: “Brexit couldn’t remove totally the right to rely on European health and safety laws but it would reduce them to a bare minimum.”
In contrast, the law firm CMS predicts that the implications for health and safety law could be quite complex in the event of a Brexit.
A source at CMS said, “Some UK directors may want to see some EU regulation maintained, and not just because of the amount of work and expenditure it took to achieve compliance with regulation over recent years.
“Sectors populated by large international brands seek, as part of their approach to good corporate governance, to adopt global standards for areas such as health and safety, environment and diversification in the workforce —irrespective of where in the world they may operate
“Responsible companies are unlikely to welcome too much divergence from EU regulation in this field.”
Leaving the EU would also put Britain’s environment “in a more vulnerable and uncertain position”, according to a report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP).
The study says membership of the EU has “a significant positive impact” and argues that “there would be significant consequences for the environment” If the UK decides to leave the EU following the referendum in June.
The IEEP report, which was compiled in collaboration with the Wildlife Trusts RSPB and WWF, looks at both the strengths and weaknesses of EU environment policy across a wide range of issues, and acknowledges that dealing with environmental challenges on a European scale is far from complete.
But the report argues that improvements in air, land and water quality, efficiencies in waste management and recycling and protection of the natural environment in the UK have been significantly enhanced through EU membership.
Former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson dismissed the report’s conclusion as “complete tosh”. In an interview with the BBC, Patterson said it wasn’t true that leaving the EU would harm the environment. “We would do a much better job if we were outside. We would be able to interpret the legislation, such as the Bern Convention (on the Conservation of European and Wildlife Habitats) to our own flora and fauna, while also being an active participant in other bodies.”
According to the report, the extent to which current environmental regulations are maintained is an important factor and these are more predictable if the UK stays within the EU. The study also argues that separating UK, EU and international environmental law, built up over four decades, “would be a considerable challenge and a source of significant uncertainty”.