The Government needs to allow more time for departments to review and decide what to do with the thousands of EU regulations it is proposing to revoke, revise or retain under the Retained EU Law Bill, or businesses will face a legal “black hole” from the end of next year, the British Safety Council says today (21 November), ahead of a Public Bill Committee report due out tomorrow.
The leading health, safety and wellbeing charity is urging the Government to rethink the deadline in its legislation, of 31 December 2023, for all EU regulations to be automatically repealed unless a Minister decides otherwise.
Peter McGettrick, British Safety Council chairman, said:
“Having left the European Union, it is right that the UK should set its own laws. But the Government’s Retained EU Law Bill allows too little time for too little scrutiny on changes to regulations which govern our safety, health and wellbeing. It risks opening a legal black hole, which will leave businesses in the dark and expose people to greater risk.
“The Government’s Bill creates huge uncertainty for UK businesses at a time when they already face other significant challenges, including sharply rising costs, a slowing global economy and continuing market turbulence.
“The current timetable on this Bill is unrealistic given the vast amount of work required by Government departments to review and then potentially replace many thousands of pieces of regulation with new secondary legislation.”
Many of the areas covered by the Retained EU Law Bill underpin and define protections, standards, and regulations we now take for granted, in our workplaces, shops and communities, as well as health and safety. These regulations determine everything from PPE provided to protect people in work, to working at height, manual handling, and dealing with asbestos.
Peter McGettrick continued:
“While improvements could no doubt be made to some existing regulations, the sweeping way the Government is going about this risks leaving businesses, workers and the UK public open to future abuse, harm and unreasonable change. British Safety Council does not believe this is acceptable either to people in work or their employers who will have to manage the level of risk this creates for them and their businesses.”
While workers in the UK will still be covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), as well as common law, the Bill creates uncertainty as to exactly what will and will not remain in UK law covering huge swathes of employment practice beyond the end of 2023.
Regulators will also be under increased pressure and may require more resource to fulfil their remit without a workable regulatory framework.
Peter McGettrick added:
“There is a danger of big gaps being created in our regulatory landscape and divergence between businesses selling into Europe, which still need to comply with EU law, and those which do not.
“We also know that regulators are already struggling to fulfil their expanded roles following Brexit, with a lack of resource and recruitment challenges meaning businesses and consumers are already facing increased safety risks.”
A recent Public Accounts Committee report said that in attempting to create a UK version of the EU’s chemical controls system, REACH, the HSE’s Chemicals Regulation Division had required staff at the agency to spend a quarter of their time in training.