UK: Brexit could put millions at risk at work

Leaving the EU could put millions of people in the UK at increased risk of injury in the workplace, a TUC report has concluded.

‘EU membership and health and safety’, published on 28 April to coincide with International Workers’ Memorial Day, finds that EU legislation has helped stop illnesses and injuries at work, and saved lives. The report notes that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of new British health & safety regulations introduced between 1997-2009 originated in Europe – 41 out of 65 laws.

It says these new safety rules have contributed to a reduction in workplace fatalities in the UK. In 1992 there were 368 worker fatalities in Britain; this dropped to 142 last year. Over this period, the rate of deaths fell from 1.5 to 0.46 per 100,000 workers.

The report notes that EU law has had a ‘significant impact’ on UK workplace safety laws, including requiring the UK to strengthen safety rules in construction – one of the most dangerous industries. It was also the driving force that better rules to protect police officers. And the EU required improvements in the UK’s asbestos regulations – the biggest work-related killer in the UK.

The report notes that if the UK votes to leave the EU, the government would be able to decide whether or not to keep protections derived from EU laws. It says there is no guarantee that they would keep health and safety legislation at its current level, warning that the UK government has indicated it wants to reduce the ‘red tape’ of EU protection.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “it’s clear that voting to leave the EU is a big risk for people’s safety at work. Brexit could see many of the vital protections that keep workers safe in shops, factories, offices or on building sites stripped away, leaving millions of people at increased risk of accident or injury in the workplace.”

She added: “The government has already hinted its readiness to water down key health & safety rules should Britain vote Leave in June. And we know that some of the biggest cheerleaders for Brexit see protections for ordinary British workers – like health and safety law – as just red tape to be binned.”

TUC news release and report, EU Membership and Health and Safety.