IOSH Brexit policy position

Our position on Brexit and FAQs – January 2021

The UK is no longer part of the European Union (EU), and IOSH calls on all parties to focus on safe and healthy operations that protect workers, support COVID-19 recovery and provide stability. Workforces and citizens across UK and Europe need decision-makers to manage the risks to physical and mental health and wellbeing, and to build back better and healthier. IOSH and the OSH profession work globally and cross-sectors and are well-placed to provide guidance on issues to protect lives, livelihoods and economies, including on change management, prevention through design and business continuity and supply chains, and would be pleased to contribute to a joint task force to support this.

IOSH advocates that all trade and investment decisions should support socially responsible business and sustainability, including a minimum level of OSH regulations; upward harmonisation of regulatory standards and practice; effective enforcement of regulations; implementation of international standards; provision of OSH assistance, capacity building and cooperation; and OSH risk management, transparency and civil society involvement. We believe future trade arrangements between the UK and the EU and between the UK and the rest of the world are all opportunities to revitalise OSH, ensure socially responsible governance, and build back better and healthier for the good of everyone.

Workers need continued protection from COVID-19 and support to deal with the implications of Brexit and changed trading requirements in their workplaces. Governments and employers need to support the wellbeing of workers, especially those in vulnerable groups, such as gig and migrant workers, the self-employed and significantly affected sectors, including agriculture, fishing, logistics and manufacturing.

Here are some related FAQs:

What is the current situation and ‘the deal’ in respect of occupational safety and health?

The UK exited the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020, after a 47-year membership, following a 2016 referendum. To maintain continuity, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 converts EU law into UK law as ‘retained EU law’, amended by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 for the transition period, until 31 December 2020. It also incorporated the Withdrawal Agreement into domestic law after the UK formally left the EU. The UK has subsequently introduced the Internal Market Bill. For more details about UK developments see the UK Government website GOV.UK.

As of the 1 January 2021 there is a new UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement in place. The Agreement (Chapter six: Labour and social standards) includes reciprocal commitments not to reduce the level of protection for workers or fail to enforce employment rights in a manner that has an effect on trade. This is in line with other ‘non-regression’ clauses.

The non-regression levels of protection within The Agreement, Article 6.2 states:

1. ‘The Parties affirm the right of each Party to set its policies and priorities in the areas covered by this Chapter, to determine the labour and social levels of protection it deems appropriate and to adopt or modify its law and policies in a manner consistent with each Party's international commitments, including those under this Chapter’.

2. ‘A Party shall not weaken or reduce, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the Parties, its labour and social levels of protection below the levels in place at the end of the transition period, including by failing to effectively enforce its law and standards’.

3. ‘The Parties recognise that each Party retains the right to exercise reasonable discretion and to make bona fide decisions regarding the allocation of labour enforcement resources with respect to other labour law determined to have higher priority, provided that the exercise of that discretion, and those decisions, are not inconsistent with its obligations under this Chapter. 4’.

4. ‘The Parties shall continue to strive to increase their respective labour and social levels of protection referred to in this Chapter.’

We can take from this that nothing can be actioned to weaken or reduce current levels of protection and it is unlikely that anything will change in the short term.

Another change is in relation to the European Court of Justice who will no longer have a constitutional role in the UK.

What is IOSH’s engagement with Europe?

As a Chartered professional body, charity and international NGO, IOSH has global reach and works for a safe and healthy world of work. With the end of the Brexit transition period, our aim remains to help ensure that health and safety standards are protected and enhanced during the resulting period of change and under any new trading arrangements that may be developed. IOSH is exceptionally well-placed to do this, as we have members all over the world, including in most European Member States. We are also active members of ENSHPO (European Network of Occupational Safety and Health Professional Organisations), as well as supporting health and safety improvements in the accession countries and Balkan network.

In addition, IOSH has long-standing and positive working relations with European institutions, working as partners on Europe-wide campaigns and engaging with European research and training networks. We will continue to assist our members and fellow professionals across Europe and beyond – working to support organisations and improve health and safety management worldwide. IOSH believes that effective regulation, socially responsible business practices and applied international standards can all help support good health and safety performance. As well as saving lives, they can also strengthen reputation, resilience and results – essential during periods of significant change, uncertainty and recovery.

What are the benefits of strengthened UK OSH?

Looking to the post-Brexit future, IOSH believes the UK should continue to strengthen OSH protections, fully recognising the following:

  • The UK’s risk-based system is effective, respected and marketable worldwide
  • A compelling economic and social case complements the strong legal and moral ones
  • OSH law is well-embedded into UK business, which calls for no disruption
  • Improving OSH policy and practice in line with evidence helps everyone
  • Leaders can secure stability and benefit from successful corporate systems
  • Sound regulation helps the UK to be a great country to do business with
  • It fully supports the UK’s domestic and international policy agendas
  • It helps the UK meet its UN Sustainable Development Goal targets
How can UK employers minimise any health and safety impacts from changed trade relationships?

Responsible organisations will have already been scanning the horizon and monitoring developments so that they can be ready. This includes assessing the OSH risks for their operations and supply chains and implementing control measures and necessary training. Requirements will differ depending on the business and sector concerned, but will require engaging the workforce, change management, business continuity planning and providing adequate training and resources, as well as supporting the mental and physical health and wellbeing of employees during this period of uncertainty and change.

Where can I find information about health and safety matters related to Brexit?

United Kingdom

Republic of Ireland


How will Brexit affect the role and influence of IOSH, particularly in a European context?

IOSH’s independence, collaborative strategy, global outlook and reputation for excellence, together with the gold-standard of our Chartered members, are all valuable assets. IOSH will continue to engage in OSH globally, including participating in consultations on EU OSH regulation, guidance and strategies. Recent examples have included our response to the European Commission on the Roadmap for the EU Strategic Framework on Safety and Health at Work 2021-2025 and on the EU Trade Policy Review;

its consultation on the Review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive and on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. IOSH is supporting the current EU-OSHA campaign on musculoskeletal disorders, has taken part in an InGRID-2 workshop on OSH performance reporting and works with organisations such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. We will also continue to promote our No Time to Lose preventing occupational cancer campaign, which has support from across the world, together with our other free OSH resources.

As IOSH is an organisation with a British Charter, what impact will Brexit have on IOSH membership?

UK membership or non-membership of the EU does not affect IOSH’s operation as a Chartered body and global organisation that regulates its members worldwide. We have Chartered members across the world and this designation represents a respected mark of excellence. It is underpinned by our OSH competence requirements and system for achieving Chartered status, which includes academic qualification; initial professional development; and peer interview, together with an ongoing requirement for continuing professional development and compliance with IOSH’s code of conduct.

Has IOSH published any other commentary on Brexit?
What is IOSH doing to inform their members?

IOSH’s Policy and Regulatory Engagement function will continue to monitor public policy developments, arising issues, consultations and OSH-related trends and share relevant information.

What is IOSH doing to support their members?

The IOSH information helpline can support members on occupational health and safety and environmental issues and employment law advice is available to them too.