Who needs European Health and Safety?

eu-osha-en Many claims have been made about the benefits of leaving the European Union in recent weeks. Vote Leave invites the UK to “take control” from EU bureaucrats. To counter arguments that there have been many gains in employment rights obtained since the UK joined the European Economic Community, Vote Leave has also claimed that these benefits were gained well before 1975.

Sean Jones QC does a far better job than I could hope to do in dismissing these claims. See Who needs European Employment Rights?

However, what about the development of the UK’s health and safety legislation since 1975? Whilst our principle act of Parliament in this area remains the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the EU has been the source of most of the UK legislation in this area. In particularly, the European Commission adopted its first action programme for health and safety in 1978. This followed the adoption of Article 118A of the Treaty of Rome 1957, which gives health and safety prominence in the objectives of the EU. The Social Charter also contains a declaration on health and safety.

To illustrate the effect of the EU, the table below lists the “Key Health and Safety Regulations” as set out in the introduction of Tolley’s Health & Safety At Work Service. Only those regulations in red are not derived from EU legislation.

 

Health and Safety Regulation Legal Source/Legal Basis
Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009 (as amended) Directive 2008/68/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24th September 2008 on the inland transport of dangerous goods

Council Directive 1999/36/EC of 29th April 1999 on transportable pressure equipment 

Article 5 of Title II (Prior Information) of Council Directive 89/618/Euratom of 27th November 1989 on informing the general public about health protection measures to be applied and steps to be taken in the event of a radiological emergency

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 Council Directive 92/57/EEC of 24 June 1992 on the implementation of minimum safety and health requirements at temporary or mobile construction sites
Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 Directive 2009/148/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work 
Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 2015 Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC
Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 Directive 2003/10/EC of 6 February 2003 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 Council Directive 78/610/EEC of 29 June 1978 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States on the protection of the health of workers exposed to vinyl chloride monomer

Council Directive 89/677/EEC of 21 December 1989 amending for the eighth time Directive 76/769/EEC on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the member states relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations

Council Directive 90/394/EEC of 28 June 1990 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens at work

Council Directive 98/24/EC of 7 April 1998 on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work 

Directive 2000/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 September 2000 on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work

Commission Directive 91/322/EEC of 29 May 1991 on establishing indicative limit values by implementing Council Directive 80/1107/EEC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work

Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 Directive 2002/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2002 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (vibration) 
Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 Council Directive 98/24/EC of 7 April 1998 on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work  – measures relating to explosive atmospheres

Directive 1999/92/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 1999 on minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres

Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 Revoked and replaced a number of regulations from The Electricity Regulations 1908 to those made under the Mines and Quarries Act 1954
Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Regulations 1998 Regulations under the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969
Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 Articles 10-12 of Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work
Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 Council Directive 90/270/EEC of 29 May 1990 on the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment
Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 Council Directive 92/58/EEC of 24 June 1992 on the minimum requirements for the provision of safety and/or health signs at work
Health and Safety (Training for Employment) Regulations 1990 Regulations under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 Council Directive 89/655/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work – provisions concerning lifting equipment
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Revise 1992 Regulations implementing:

Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work

Council Directive 91/383/EEC of 25 June 1991 supplementing the measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of workers with a fixed- duration employment relationship or a temporary employment relationship

Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 Council Directive 90/269/EEC of 29 May 1990 on the minimum health and safety requirements for the manual handling of loads where there is a risk particularly of back injury to workers 
Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 Council Directive 89/656/EEC of 30 November 1989 on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace 
Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 Council Directive 89/655/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 Replaced regulations made under the Fire Precautions Act 1971
Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013 Replaced older RIDDOR made under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 Regulations under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
Work at Height Regulations 2005 Council Directive 89/655/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work – provisions for working at height
Working Time Regulations 1998 Council Directive 93/104/EC of 23 November 1993 concerning certain aspects of the organization of working time

Council Directive 94/33/EC of 22 June 1994 on the protection of young people at work

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 Council Directive 89/654/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace

An ardent Brexit campaigner might, of course, argue that this weight of EU-derived legislation has contributed to an ‘elf and safety gone mad’ culture in the UK and demonstrates the overbearing nature of EU interference in national law.

It depends upon your view of the importance of health and safety. As a law student I studied the long history behind the Robens Report 1972 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The Parliamentary record shows a distinct lack of enthusiasm to enact legislation to protect workers (the first act to protect the welfare of workers was the Factory Act 1802 – only national disasters such as the Aberfan disaster (144 died) or Flixborough (28 died) gave momentum to reform).

More relevantly, I was a health and safety officer before switching to a career in law. As such, I introduced a formal risk assessment system at my place of work, driven by the introduction of risk assessment requirements under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 (‘COSHH’) (made consistent with Council Directive 80/1107/EEC of 27 November 1980 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work).

Risk assessments are now the standard means to manage health and safety, and arguably the non-prescriptive nature of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 needs this approach. However, the legislation to formalize this style of health and safety management comes from a group of Regulations which came into force on 1 January 1993 and which are derived from EU directives known as the Framework and Daughter directives – known as the ‘six pack’ of UK regulations on the management of health and safety at work, work equipment, DSE, manual handling, PPE, and health, safety and welfare in workplaces. Other important regulations requiring more specific types of risk assessment relate to noise, manual handling operations, personal protective equipment, display screen equipment, and vibration.

Campaigners against the Human Rights Act 1998 want to repeal the Act, possibly including withdrawing the UK from the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Lord Bingham famously asked, “Which of these [human rights], I ask, would we wish to discard?”. I would similarly ask, which of these health and safety regulations would you wish to discard, merely because they are derived from EU legislation?

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One thought on “Who needs European Health and Safety?

  1. This is based on the assumption that countries are not competent to legislate on their own health and safety and have to have it imposed upon them. Are the health and safety standards so mush inferior in comparable countries outside the EU such as Canada or Australia?

    I would argue that in some areas UK safety standards can be higher. For instance, we have a lot of regulations on building, gas and electrical installation standards that are higher than some other EU countries, although these change all the time.

    In short, I don’t think this is a compelling argument at all. A better one would be the co-ordination of some standards for the working of the single market but I rather doubt that safety standards in the UK would be very much worse or better whatever the position with relation to the EU.

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