The news agenda, over the past three years, has been commandeered by Brexit. Whether it’s about securing a deal or our stability as a country following the ‘divorce’ from the EU, there are still many unanswered questions facing all industries across the UK, including manufacturing.
It’s now important to focus on the opportunities Brexit offers the UK, including the chance to review our health and safety regulations. Policy makers need to listen to the call from industry and respond by honouring the commitment to lead in the area of health and safety standards if the UK has left the EU.
Although it’s clear from industry opinions that most UK companies wouldn’t recommend a rapid change in regulation post-Brexit, it’s important to see Brexit as an opportunity to review current health and safety regulation to ensure it remains fit for purpose. Continuity with EU policy is the correct approach and we welcome the news that the British Standards Institution (BSI) will remain a full member of the European Standards Organisations following the UK’s departure from the EU. Without this membership, there could have been increased confusion and uncertainty over the status of European standards in the UK.
However, the new agreement means that there will now be a transition period until the end of December 2020, during which the BSI will be able to remain a full, active member. This will minimise disruption and provide a smooth transition period for all businesses.
Although we do support EU continuity, we don’t believe this should provide justification for complacency. There are issues within the current framework that need addressing, for example the fact that a number of non-compliant products have managed to achieve a CE mark. Following research Arco conducted that looked into the quality of products supplied to the UK workforce, we believe that market surveillance needs to be improved.
Much of the current market surveillance is reactive rather than proactive, which is resulting in a number of substandard products being available on the market. To reduce the risk of non-compliant PPE entering the UK marketplace, the CE mark approval process needs to be improved with current procedural weaknesses addressed.
Our Be Sure campaign discusses in detail how the current CE and EU- type approval process is allowing less reputable manufacturers or importers to make changes to the main components of a CE-approved product, which may impact its safety performance, without conducting a retest. Currently, there is no third-party monitoring process for category 1 or 2 PPE under the regulation, including footwear and hard hats; the responsibility for compliance simply remains with the manufacturer.
We believe there needs to be more governance within this process. To support this, market surveillance needs to be enhanced, so regulatory authorities aren’t just responding when issues are brought to their attention but have the resources to work proactively to identify non-compliant products. This, of course, will require enough funding to organisations like the HSE and local Trading Standards authorities, for education, prevention, enforcement and prosecution functions.
While there are those who still see health and safety regulation as unnecessary ‘red tape’, it’s absolutely imperative that the government doesn’t see Brexit as an opportunity to reduce worker protection.
If the government plans to revisit any aspects of the safety framework, this must be conducted within a clear time frame and sufficient opportunities for industry consultation to ensure that the UK’s reputation for excellent health and safety management isn’t compromised.
Neil Hewitt is director of QSHE UK & Asia Arco
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