Letter urges PM not to scrap working at height laws

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The Scaffolding Association has written to Business Secretary Grant Shapps to express concern that Working at Height regulations (WAHR) could be axed under an overhaul of EU-derived law in the UK.

In the letter, Robert Candy, Chief Executive of the Scaffolding Association, said that ‘urgent reassurance’ was needed in light of plans contained in a Bill the government has dubbed ‘the Brexit Freedoms’ Bill.

“Statistics which are published annually by HSE consistently demonstrate that working at height remains the single largest contributing factor to workplace fatalities and that almost a quarter of all workplace fatalities occur because of falls from height,” he says in the letter dated 19 December 2022.

“This association fully supports WAHR and does not believe that they are burdensome or onerous for businesses to implement. I urgently seek your reassurance that the government does not intend to remove WAHR and that careful consideration will be given to ensure that any amendments to do not inadvertently compromise the safety of workers within our sector and the wider construction industry.”

The Scaffolding Association says that working at height remains the single largest contributing factor to workplace fatalities. Photograph: iStock

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is set to amend, repeal or replace nearly all of the EU-derived laws which were moved onto the UK statute book after Brexit. These include laws related to protections for the environment and workers’ rights.

The Bill is due to receive its third reading in Parliament, at which time amendments can be made.

However, prime minister Rishi Sunak has recently indicated reform of EU-derived laws will be focused in areas such as finance, allaying fears that health and safety is a target.

Sunak told a House of Commons liaison committee that financial and professional services and data are the areas “where we will want to take advantage of the new flexibilities and sovereignty that we have to do things differently” after Brexit.

The Bill has a ‘sunset clause’ of 31 December 2023 by which date up to 4,000 laws would have to be either revoked or reformed.

However, according to the Financial Times, Sunak is not committed to that date. In his speech to the committee he noted provisions in the retained EU law bill that allowed for some “flexibility”, saying ministers can seek to delay a decision on a piece of EU legislation until June 2026.

It could also be too costly and time consuming to review EU-derived law in the time frame. In October 2022, the UK’s Business Department warned they would need 400 staff to review or repeal the 300 pieces of retained EU Law legislation it is responsible for.

Indeed, Peter McGettrick, British Safety Council chairman, said: "The current timetable on this Bill is unrealistic given the vast amount of work required by Government departments to review and then potentially replace many thousands of pieces of regulation with new secondary legislation.”

He added that the Bill "creates huge uncertainty for UK businesses at a time when they already face other significant challenges" including sharply rising costs and market turbulence.

“There is a danger of big gaps being created in our regulatory landscape and divergence between businesses selling into Europe, which still need to comply with EU law, and those which do not," he said.

“We also know that regulators are already struggling to fulfil their expanded roles following Brexit, with a lack of resource and recruitment challenges meaning businesses and consumers are already facing increased safety risks.”

Follow the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill here 


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