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Brexit and mobile worker safety law in 2021

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Now that the UK has left the European Union - what does it mean for mobile worker safety laws? The short answer is nothing much…yet.

Mobile workforce managers need to meet the same health and safety standards in 2021 as they did in 2020. But when looking at the bigger picture, things get a bit more complex.

Here’s a look at the recent legislative changes and what it means for business owners and the future of safety management.

What are the UK safety laws?

The basis for British health and safety law is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW). This outlines the general responsibilities that employers have to protect the safety and welfare of workers.

The basic principle behind the legislation is that a business should do everything ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ to ensure safety. Potential hazards should be identified and reasonable steps taken to eliminate or minimise risks.

What about European safety laws?

From the mid-1980s, the European Union has played a role in setting employment standards. It does this by issuing directives which are then interpreted and turned into domestic laws in each of the member countries.

The biggest change came with the introduction of the Health and Safety Framework Directive (89/391/EEC) which created a broad set of European Union standards that each member state must meet.

In the UK, HSW covered most of the requirements but to cover all bases, a more detailed set of legislation was created. Launched in 1993, these six sets of regulations became known as the ‘six-pack’.

These are:

  • The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations: Requires the employer to assess all significant risks
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations: Requires the employer to protect workers from manual handling risks
  • Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations: Covers areas such as safe use of monitors/displays and provision of eye tests
  • Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations: This covers creating safe work environments
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations: Requires employers to ensure kit and equipment is safe and properly maintained
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations: This covers the provision of safety clothing and kit

Since then, many UK safety laws have been added or revised to meet various requirements of newly issued EU directives.

What has changed since the UK left the EU?

As part of the agreement made on December 24th, the UK Government committed not to weaken or reduce employment rights - including health and safety standards. So on January 1st, the only real change was the wording of the legislation.

On January 1st, any of the EU derived laws became wholly domestic ones. That’s how things currently stand and for safety management, nothing much changes.

But looking at the bigger picture, things could get more complex. This is because the agreement provides the UK Government with a certain amount of ‘wiggle’ room.

It allows employment law changes to be made as long as they don’t give the UK any kind of competitive trading advantages over the EU.

In the short term, this isn’t likely to be tested because it would risk the UK’s tariff-free trading status but in the longer term, it could become a factor.

What happens when new EU safety directives are issued?

The UK Government is likely to continue to follow any new EU directives, interpreting and making them part of domestic law. They now have the option to ignore them but this would risk the agreements and their tariff-free trading status.

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