The benefits of 40 years of participation, plus the health and safety implications of if, when and how the UK eventually leaves the EU, is exercising the minds of many organisations. However, there is also a strong push to continue what has worked so well for so long. Jon Herbert reports on current thinking.
If actions speak louder than words, then the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) made their point clearly on 20 June.
The two organisations signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) formalising a joint programme of activities designed to promote safe and healthy sustainable working environments in countries where the EBRD invests — not just in Europe but also across other emerging economies. A MoU allows both parties to exchange information and ideas while sharing good practice and expertise in different sector areas.
The MoU, signed three days before the UK’s referendum on continued EU membership, is intended as a platform on which IOSH and EBRD can jointly influence the development of occupational health and safety policy and practice. It will also be used to improve standards at an industry level.
After the new agreement was finalised at EBRD’s London headquarters, other health and safety organisations joined in an open discussion exploring how global health and safety performance can be improved using the local approach that has worked so well in the UK and Europe for so many years.
The meeting focused on identifying areas that will deliver the greatest impact for professional organisations with the capability to work internationally — an export opportunity.
IOSH and the EBRD already have core principles in common and work together successfully. Their shared strategic plan supports companies and industries in countries where EBRD is able to invest in bringing successful health and safety standards to the wider workplace.
Responding after the referendum result was announced, IOSH emphasised how important it will be for the health and safety sector to continue to meet EU-agreed standards applied globally.
A spokesperson added that while the UK will have less influence over EU law-making, it will still be vital to apply the existing successful risk-based health and safety system. This includes laws derived from EU directives. However, the system has also been supported by several independent reviews and is respected and imitated worldwide, says IOSH, which will defend against any erosion of health and safety protection.
IOSH notes that the UK has already influenced European health and safety development and its expertise will continue to be sought and valued.
Continuity call on Government
The British Safety Council is urging the Government to make sure that any changes to health, safety and environmental legislation will be “considered carefully”. It also wants ministers to guarantee that changes are “properly evidence-based”. The council has raised concerns that legislation with its origins in European Directives should not be downgraded, overlooked or forgotten.
Council Director of Policy and Standards, Louise Ward, noted that over the last 40 years has brought significant improvements to the health, safety and wellbeing of UK workers.
This was driven and structured through a collective risk-management approach developed from the UK’s legislation and regulatory framework, which since the mid-1990s owed some of its origins to European Directives that have since been turned into UK law.
If the UK exits the EU, depending on the terms of any future agreement, the framework may have to be reviewed, Ward says.
She added, “Caution is required here if we are to maintain our current standards and protect the health and safety of workers in the UK. The objective must be to judge each element of the framework on its own merits and effectiveness, not just on its origin.
“The British Safety Council urges government to ensure that any proposed alteration to items of health and safety and environmental legislation is considered carefully. These important decisions must be properly evidence-based and ensure continuity of proportionate and effective protection for workers in the UK.”
Ward also added, “UK health, safety and environmental performance is respected internationally. The British Safety Council is committed to maintaining our support to employers, our members and clients across the world to deliver our vision that no one should be injured or made ill at work.”
No second guessing
The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) takes a more sanguine approach. The UK trade association said it could not “second guess” the impact of a leave vote but would continue to lobby Government to ensure health and safety remains “an important sphere” for policymakers.
Commenting that doubtlessly there will be many rumours and misinformation to deal with in the near future, according to BSIF CEO, Alan Murray: “The Personal Protective Equipment market in the UK has been based on EU directives for a generation and after years of discussion the new EU Regulation 2016/425 came ‘into force’ in April this year and we can only at this stage assume that the market will continue to recognise it.”
The BSIF says the UK “has led the world in occupational safety and health”, which should be synonymous with good business practice.
In or out?
An example of issues where far-reaching future decisions will have to be taken in the near future is the Government consultation on implementing a new EU directive about disclosing health and safety and other non-financial information as part of corporate reporting.
As things stand, EU Member States including the UK will need to transpose the directive into their own legislation by December 2016. As such, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) held a consultation earlier this year. Not only was the department seeking stakeholder views, it was also trying to raise awareness and discover whether there is a wish for wider reference to the scope of narrative reporting by UK firms.
Over recent years, there has been a determined push to extend company reporting beyond financial figures alone and include a non-compulsory but structured element of health, safety and environmental accountability.
Only larger businesses will be affected, including banks and other organisations designated by Member States employing more than 500 employees. They will also be expected to disclose information on social and employee matters, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery issues and the diversity of Boards of Directors.
IOSH believes that meaningful corporate reporting is a key driver to improving health and safety performance that also helps to “secure stakeholder confidence, long-term investment and economic success”.
The European Commission is presently developing non-binding guidelines designed to help large public sector organisations in the non-financial reporting process. The result will be a methodology for clear disclosure.
Responses from other industries
A number of major industry trade bodies have also encouraged the Government to ensure stability for the economy and existing trade arrangements.
The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) represents chemical and pharmaceutical companies across the UK which it says add £15 billion to the national economy each year from an annual turnover totalling £50 billion. Its members account for some 10% of the value of the UK’s manufacturing sector. The CIA thinks an immediate period of calm reflection is needed to minimise instability.
The Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) also wants to see a period of calm while the formal process of leaving the EU is carried out, again to minimise uncertainty.
A third trade body to make the call for the Government to outline the exit process clearly to reduce industry and financial uncertainty is Oil & Gas UK. The oil industry is already under intense price pressure and the Government has outlined measures to help experienced employees move into other areas of the engineering sector.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) makes the point that the UK’s current shortage of engineering and technology skills will be made worse if companies find it more difficult to recruit engineers from other EU countries.
Published by Croner-i on 25 July 2016