Coalition sounds alarm over ‘seismic’ changes to health and safety rules

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A coalition of groups has launched a campaign to stop the government scrapping several key health and safety laws at the end of the year.

The coalition is warning of the dangers around doing away with rules covering health and safety at work, manual handling operations, the use of display-screen equipment and welfare at work, the provision and use of work equipment and the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Retained EU Law Bill, currently going through parliament, is set to automatically scrap more than 2,400 laws, dating from the UK’s time as a member of the bloc. It is set to take effect from December.

These include the Construction Design and Management Regulations, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, Work at Height Regulations and the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations –  which the organisations believe have saved, and continue to save, lives in the construction industry.

Those involved with the campaign include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the British Safety Council and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.

A joint statement from the coalition said: “Given Britain’s long-standing record as a global leader in health and safety, we understand the need for continuous improvement and how regularly reviewing legislation can build more effective frameworks.

“However, we are concerned that the timeframe set forth for implementing the Retained EU Law Bill could lead to increased harm. While we agree the revision and improvement of UK health and safety laws would be positive, we are conscious that better regulation is not de-regulation.”

They warn that rushing to implement the bill without clarity on the future of health and safety laws would undermine our health and safety standards and protections”.

“Every law has a considered aim and intention. And it is this aim and intention that we must carefully consider against the needs and necessary protections of workers and their rights, and the needs of all people and business, today and in the future, to be safe, healthy and sustainable,” they added.

The Retained EU Law Bill spans thousands of legislative areas aside from construction, including the environment, food safety and standards, product safety including toys, rules on child seatbelts, and hazardous substance and chemical safety.

Earlier this month, the Scaffolding Association appealed to the government to retain the Work at Height Regulations.

Scaffolding Association chief executive Robert Candy said at the time: “This association fully supports the [regulations] and does not believe that they are burdensome or onerous for businesses to implement.

“I urgently seek your reassurance that […] careful consideration will be given to ensure that any amendments do not inadvertently compromise the safety of workers within our sector and the wider construction industry.”

Writing on the issue for Construction News today, Pannone Corporate lawyer Bill Dunkerley said: “If this bill does become law, then, far from empowering the UK following Brexit and cutting EU-derived red tape, it is almost guaranteed to result in an overnight reduction in safety standards and increase in workplace injury, which is not in anyone’s interests.

“The impact would be seismic and would fundamentally change the scope and extent of workplace compliance regulations.”

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: “This government has no intention of abandoning our strong record on workers’ rights, having raised domestic standards over recent years to make them some of the highest in the world.

“Through the Retained EU Law Bill, important EU safety legislation will be retained, maintaining the United Kingdom’s high standards of health and safety protection whilst continuing to reduce burdens for business.”

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