A Conservative government would scrap working time regulations once Britain leaves the EU in 2019 to demonstrate it has ‘done something’, a panellist at last week’s BOHS conference warned.
Lesley McLeod, CEO at Association for Project Safety said: “There will be a countdown to say it’s 100 days since we left the EU. Someone will want to say we have done ‘X’ even if it is almost entirely meaningless. Someone will want to list a lot of things that have been done.”
In the frank debate held in a Question Time format for BOHS's annual conference on 26 April, John Ballard also suggested that the laws derived from the European Working Time Directive could be one of the first things to go.
“Putting restrictions on the number of hours our workers work, carrying over holiday time, the conservative government has disagreed with those things.
“There will be a lot of noise over that one small area. It will appear like a big victory to say: ‘we’ve got rid of this nasty piece of regulation which is a burden on business.’”
McLeod added health and safety was viewed by certain MPs as a ‘bloody nuisance’, particularly for SMEs. “I think there will be a political imperative, particularly if you see fundamentally centrist to right wing parties stay in power over time. There will be a drift to deregulate,” she said.
The panel also debated whether US trade deals were a concern for health and safety standards in Britain. Ballard said it was a concern that Britain might ‘have to make do with whatever’s on offer’ to get trade deals, even if it means lowering occupational health standards.
Danny Martland, director of health and safety at BAE Systems agreed there were problems with moving out of Europe where ‘we’re doing similar things’: “Within our company we use a risk based approach in our global system but it wasn’t apparent when we first started operating in the US.
“When I’ve dealt with the US part of the business, there’s a conversation about OSHA standards...It feels like a bunch of lawyers have got together and argued down to a standard rather than up to a standard and I don’t see that risk based approach,” he added.
Not all speakers were concerned that Brexit or a conservative government poses any problem for health and safety standards or regulations.
Sean Elson, partner at Pinsent Masons law firm said there was “no immediate threat” of losing health and safety standards.
“Much of [the health and safety law] is UK regulations anyway - I don’t see any apatite to run a race to throw a lot of that in the bin.
“The fundamentals go back to the 1974 act so a lot of the stuff people are concerned about are not EU led – FFI, the sentencing guidelines, they’re not rooted in anything from the EU. I think we’ll stick to what we’ve got in the short to medium term and there may be an opportunity to look at things around the edges – some process led issues.”
The speakers appeared on ‘Question Time: the future for worker health protection in the UK’ at BOHS’s annual conference on 26 April in Harrogate.
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