The ongoing political turmoil surrounding Brexit is of great concern to industries throughout the UK, including those around our own East Midlands region, not least because companies are keen to prepare themselves suitably for what awaits just over the horizon. One key area of the business landscape that could potentially undergo many changes following withdrawal from the European Union is that of health and safety legislation.
In a wide-ranging report published recently by manufacturer’s organisation, EEF, along with leading health and safety experts, Arco, British manufacturers have called for as little disruption as possible.
42% of the companies participating in the survey wanted to see no changes made to current health and safety regulations, remaining within European health and safety regimes. Although a further 55% expressed a preference for no immediate changes, they did hope for a thorough review of health and safety regulations once the UK is no longer part of the European Union.
The overall message highlighted by Terry Woolmer, Head of Health & Safety policy at EEF, was that “there should be no rapid change post Brexit to the UK’s health and safety regulatory regime,” amidst concerns that any rushed or poorly implemented changes would have a significant impact on business at all levels, not least in terms of potential costs.
“Rapid change in regulation post Brexit isn’t the correct approach as it would cause disruption”, agreed Lee Pickering, Head of Heavy Manufacturing at Arco, although he did conclude that “Brexit also affords us an opportunity to review and improve health and safety regulations within the UK”.
Undoubtedly, health and safety touches practically every aspect of our daily working lives, not least in terms of clothing. Personal protection equipment (PPE) standards currently require items to use the CE mark, which indicates compliance with the relevant BS EN standards, although there are calls for better regulation in this area.
PPE requirements can be as broad ranging as work jackets to suit outdoor or indoor working environments, appropriate footwear designed for specific working areas and surfaces, all manner of headwear designed to provide protection, or high-visibility garments. Companies like market leader engelbert strauss, founded in 1948, have kept pace with the increasing requirements for PPE and offer everything needed to work safely within EU and UK regulations. Nevertheless, there are calls to improve risk assessment guidelines for PPE requirements throughout UK industry, albeit at a steady pace following an exit from the EU.
In general, larger and medium-sized companies were more open to legislative reviews, being more able to absorb the potential costs that would accompany any changes, be it changing PPE to meet newer regulations or adapting to different manufacturing standards. Larger companies are able to shoulder such costs and develop despite the uncertainty around Brexit, which can be seen by Avant Homes’ acquisition of a £36 million development site in Chesterfield. However, smaller companies feared wholesale changes and were significantly more in favour of retaining existing EU standards and guidelines in order to avoid needless disruption and cost burdens.
Despite the potential effects of the UK distancing itself from the European Union, new links between the East Midlands and European countries continue to be forged. As such, a need for common ground in areas such as health and safety must be maintained to some degree. This seems to be the general consensus amongst business leaders throughout the region and the rest of the UK.
There was an overarching agreement that health and safety remains a key focus for improvement in every industry, while the biggest concern was regarding fragmentation of regulations, which could potentially pose a hurdle when dealing with EU and overseas clients. This is something that most hope to avoid wherever possible, with the aim of business flowing as fluidly as possible in the post-Brexit era.