Would Brexit make Britain a more dangerous place to work?
In all the debate over Britain’s membership (or not) of the European Union, I can’t help noticing that there has been a certain amount of panic over what the impact on workplace Health and Safety would be of a possible ‘Brexit’. Some pro-Europeans say, and I quote, that the removal EU laws and treaties, would lead to significantly more people being ‘maimed and injured, and that would tear apart families and communities’. On the other side of the debate there are those who say ‘Brexit’ would mean freedom, at last, from all the red tape that accompanies the health and safety rules imposed on us by Brussels. I have to say, as someone who runs a Health and Safety Training company, and has worked in the industry for 10 years - neither of these views make any sense to me.
It is true that, if we left Europe, our governments would, in theory, be more at liberty to change Health and Safety rules without having to answer to Brussels. But the question is, would they want to? Our current system is something we, in this country, have largely shaped ourselves. It is still fundamentally based on the Health and Safety at Work Act we passed1974 - just a year after we joined Europe. And it is something of which we should be very proud – we lead most of Europe, in fact most of the world, in health and safety, and many, globally, look to our system as the gold standard. What government would want to dismantle all we have achieved? What government would think that relaxing health and safety rules would win them votes?
And even if a government did try to undo some of the work that has been done, I believe much of our current system is now so ingrained in our working culture, that they would find it impossible to do so. Most businesses have spent time and money complying with the current rules, and realise that treating their employees with respect, training them to do their jobs well, and safely, is fundamental to commercial success. And most staff expect their employers to equip them with everything they need to do their jobs safely, and would speak up if they thought they were being asked to take risks.
You only need to look at last month’s tough new sentencing guidelines for health and safety breaches, to have it confirmed that this country is, and intends to remain, at the forefront of positive change when it comes to health and safety legislation. And, in or out of Europe, I don't think that will change. In fact I think that whatever the country decides on June 23, 2016, very little in the word of Health and Safety will change. So to predict a sudden drop in the UK’s standards of workplace health and safety, if we leave Europe, seems to me to be pure scaremongering!