Why this Bill still crosses our red line

Despite recent concessions, the UK Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill continues to present concerns and implications for the UK’s workers, businesses and economy, writes IOSH Head of Policy Ruth Wilkinson.

There are some things in life you just don’t mess with. People’s lives, of course, come into this protected category.

Yet the UK government, despite rowing back from original proposals under its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and a defeat* in the House of Lords on 15 May, still seems intent on putting workers’ health and safety – and thereby the UK economy – at risk.

We may now have a scaled down version of the Bill, but while it continues to give Ministers power to remove legislation they deem unfit, UK health and safety standards will still be stuck under a cloud of, at best, uncertainty and, at worst, an undying threat of eventually being scrapped without appropriate consultation, transparency or impact assessments. This is a recipe for chaos for UK business.

With the UK having built a reputation as a world leader in health and safety legislation, with other countries seeing the goal-setting legislation and our approach as the gold standard, I expect the rest of the OSH world will continue to watch events in Westminster with keen interest.

We know many IOSH members share these continuing concerns over the Bill because we asked them. The majority of the 330 who responded to our survey told us they believed the proposed Bill changes still don’t do enough to protect workers’ safety and health, business performance and the UK economy’s ability to attract investment.

Vital intelligence

This expert member testimony has provided vital intelligence for IOSH in its campaigning work against the proposed Bill, a programme of sustained activity that has included our contribution to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Occupational Safety and Health and Working at Height, writing to the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State, briefing Members of the Commons and the Lords and supporting the work of the Occupational Safety and Health Alliance, of which IOSH is a member.

So, why have we been so assiduous in tracking and influencing this Bill? Quite simply, it is our mission to drive action from everyone that can influence and prioritise occupational safety and health standards to ensure the protection of workers from harm and for the provision of safe and healthy working environments. Not surprisingly, the safety and health of workers is therefore a positive driver for business performance, the economy and for sustainable development. How can you have these desired outcomes without workers who are safe and healthy, who are able to work and are attending work?

Additional burdens placed on businesses as a result of the Bill and its associated uncertainty are likely to deliver a massive hit to the UK workforce, with workers potentially needing to take more sick days (requiring more support from health services) and early retirement, with potentially greater unemployment resulting from businesses being forced to close.

There can be many more indirect and unintended impacts on the economy, society and business. To this point, ironically, this will hurt the Government, costing it more in benefit payments and undermining its pressing drive to get more people back into work. This is why an impact assessment of legislation is needed.

Workers have the right to work in a safe and healthy working environment and IOSH would welcome the opportunity to partner with the Government to ensure this happens. We recognise change can be positive, if done in the right way, and this calls for robust due diligence and consultation to future-proof and strengthen the UK’s health and safety regulation and standards.

Let’s start this partnership by taking out entirely any provisions in this Bill relating to health and safety. A safe and healthy world of work is one thing that should never be up for negotiation.

*An amendment to the Bill to require any EU laws to be removed to be examined by a joint committee was passed by a majority of 91 in the Lords on 15 May. In addition, where a revocation is judged to represent a significant change to UK law, it will have to be debated and vetoed on in both the Commons and the Lords.

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Ruth Wilkinson
IOSH Head of Policy
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