At 11pm on Friday 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will formally leave the European Union.
From a health and safety management perspective, very little will change for businesses in the UK. Your duties to protect the health and safety of people affected by your work will not change with Brexit.
Although some laws have changed slightly, removing links to the EU, legislation on the whole has not changed. The terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 provide for the transposition of existing EU law, including Health and Safety legislation, into UK law.
If anything, laws are likely to get stricter, not slacker in future. The UK wants to remain a world leader in health and safety management.
We have already seen this with new Sentencing Guidelines that were brought into effect in recent years. These guidelines have brought much heavier fines on companies who commit Health & Safety and Food Safety offences, making it even more important that businesses manage health and safety issues correctly.
Politically, much of 2020 will involve the UK negotiating a deal for trade with our friends in Europe. At this stage, nobody knows what that will mean. If no deal is made, there may be some problems, specifically for the chemical industry. As present, the regulation of chemicals entering and leaving the EU is dictated by the REACH legislation. This is a complex piece of legislation that aims to prevent the trade of dangerous chemicals. If Britain leaves the EU with no deal, they will be exempt from the REACH regulations. This means that the UK will need to start again to implement these fundamental rules — possibly damaging trade opportunities for chemical companies. But that remains to be seen.
Whatever happens, 31 January 2020 is a historic day for the United Kingdom and for business. Whether you are celebrating or commiserating, remember to do it safely. Health and safety is here to stay whatever happens.
Finally, Brexit has caused many rifts and arguments over recent years. Now is the time to start healing those rifts. To Europe, we remain your friends.