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Brexit: How will it affect Health and Safety?

Posted: 1 March 2019


Union Jack and European Union flags torn in half

As 29th March approaches we await the impact of Brexit on our lives. Whilst current discussions focus on the Irish border this article looks at a subject closer to our hearts – unless of course you live in Newry. The subject considered here is Health and Safety, and how leaving the European Union will affect us.

The vast majority of our health and safety legislation arose from European Directives. Once published in the Official Journal, each member state had 3 years in which to embed the requirements into their national legislation. In the UK, this involved the passing of Statutory Instruments (SIs). Virtually all of the key legislation, for example that relating to risk assessments and H&S management, was enacted by Statutory Instruments long ago and will be unaffected by Brexit.

The situation is different with regards to European Regulations. These have direct effect in the UK without the requirement for a SI passed by Parliament. The two European Regulations affecting H&S are those relating to CLP and REACH.

The CLP Regulations deal with the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of hazardous substances. They were introduced in Europe to follow the Global Harmonised System (GHS) developed to bring about a degree of uniformity worldwide. This system will continue to be followed after Brexit and, again, no changes are envisaged.

That leaves us with REACH. These very complex Regulations were introduced to require toxicity testing for substances placed on the European market. Those that manufacture substances, or import them into the EU, in quantities exceeding 1 tonne per annum are required to Register with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) based in Helsinki. If you import a blend of chemicals the 1 tonne threshold will apply to any single substance in the mixture. This Registration requirement also extends to articles that can release substances during their use.

In the event of a deal, an “Implementation Period” would be established during which time REACH would still apply in the UK with all Registrations continuing to be recognised. Such a relatively smooth transition would not be possible without a deal, with potentially significant issues for both importers and exporters.

In the event of a no deal, the UK would replace EU legislation via the EU Withdrawal Act. The legislation would establish “UK REACH” mirrored on “EU REACH”, with the HSE taking on the duties of ECHA. UK Companies currently Registered with “EU REACH” would no longer be able to sell into the EU without transferring their Registration to their customers. These customers may well consider changing to an alternative supplier within the EU to avoid this complication. Additionally, UK companies currently importing chemicals from the EU would face new Registration duties under “UK REACH”. This could seriously disrupt supply chains making some substances / mixtures unavailable.

To summarise:

  • If you import substances, mixtures or articles that would fall under REACH from anywhere, or export into the EU, you need to look into the proposals in detail.
  • If you do none of these things keep calm and carry on because Brexit is likely to have little or no impact on other H&S legislation - so far as we know at present.

If you have any questions concerning your business, please contact us at Safety Management and we'll be happy to help you.


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