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Post-Brexit and OSH

IOSH policy position

The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020, calling into question the future of many well-established occupational safety and health (OSH) laws. Here is IOSH’s view on it.

What’s the issue?

A UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement was implemented following the UK’s exit from the EU. Chapter six, which relates to labour and social standards, outlines reciprocal commitments not to reduce the level of protection for workers.

Via the post-Brexit Retained EU Law (REUL) Act, the UK regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), identified 38 pieces of EU law deemed as redundant and no longer required, which were consequently revoked at the end of 2023. In addition, the UK Government is pressing ahead with its ambition for ‘Smarter Regulation’, a concept which aims to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses.

How do we see it?

The UK must seek to maintain and strengthen its reputation as one of the safest countries to work in and collaborate with the EU and likeminded countries to improve or harmonise standards where appropriate, such as on artificial intelligence (AI) and modern slavery. The world-leading Health and Safety at Work Act gave statutory functions to the HSE, and the UK must build on that legislation, not row back and make workplaces less safe.

The Government’s top priorities include growing the economy and cutting NHS waiting lists. OSH investment contributes to achieving both. There should be caution when equating deregulation with economic growth. Robust workplace regulatory standards support rather than hinder a thriving economy, help the UK be an attractive country for multinationals and partner countries to do business with, and safeguards against new and emerging risks.

Post-Brexit free trade agreements provide unique opportunities for the UK to contribute to the promotion of workers’ rights and the enhancement of OSH measures, not just domestically but in partner countries, with trade deals to include legally enforceable commitments on labour rights and to take measures to combat modern slavery.

What needs to happen?

UK Government

  • Avoid any deregulation or erosion of workers’ OSH protections, rights, and standards.
  • Ratify ILO conventions in recognising a safe and healthy working environment as a fundamental principle and right at work.
  • Protect and preserve human rights, decent work, worker protections, ethics and security regarding new and emerging hazards and risks.
  • Collaborate and align with partner countries on evolving risks such as AI, climate change, modern slavery, and any new and emerging risks.
  • Use trade agreements as a force for good – include and enforce a minimum level of OSH regulations and upward harmonisation of regulatory standards and practice.

This policy position represents IOSH's view as of April 2024 based on the best evidence available to us. We will review it periodically and reserve the right to change and update it drawing on new information.