UNIONS, EMPLOYERS, and occupational health and safety bodies have joined forces to condemn the Retained EU Law Bill as dangerous legislation, which threatens to rip up key workplace safety protections.  

The Bill will automatically scrap thousands of pieces of EU legislation currently transposed into UK laws by the end of the year – including vital workplace safety protections such as regulations on asbestos – unless parliament passes new laws to retain them.

In a joint letter to ministers, 25 organisations including the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British Safety Council, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health set out why the Bill should be ditched.

The organisations say a rethink on the Bill is needed to “ensure that we don’t see a return to the rates of fatal and serious workplace injuries last experienced in the 1970s and 1980s”. There were 123 workplace fatalities in 2021/22, compared to 495 in 1981, with thousands more deaths due to work-related ill-health, and over half a million non-fatal injuries.

The organisations also highlight the “huge uncertainty about which rules will be in place less than 10 months from now.” They add that the Retained EU Law Bill would “damage the UK’s standing as a global leader on occupational health and safety, undermine good employers and have terrible consequences for workers”.

The TUC, employers, and occupational health and safety bodies say the Bill is of “enormous concern” because “workplace health and safety can be a matter of life and death”.

They highlight three key examples of significant pieces of legislation that are at risk from this Bill:

  • The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Currently 5,000 people a year die in Great Britain from asbestos-related diseases. These regulations provide a vital framework for the management of asbestos including for building owners and those removing it.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This is a core element of the country’s health and safety regime and includes requirements on conducting risk assessments, appointing competent people and arranging training.
  • Work at Height Regulations 2005. These protect workers by requiring proper planning of work, that those undertaking the work are competent and impose duties to avoid risks from fragile surfaces, falling objects and danger areas.

The organisations say these three pieces of legislation provide “a snapshot of the protections at risk”.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “No one should put at risk at work. But this government is threatening to rip up essential worker protections, like asbestos regulation. That would be a disaster for workers’ safety. It would allow rogue employers to gamble with workers’ health and – in some cases – their lives. Make no mistake – this is dangerous and reckless legislation. Ministers must step back from the brink and ditch this Bill before it’s too late.”

Kevin Bampton, chief executive of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, said: “Using the REUL Bill for health and safety regulations is like taking a wrecking ball to a wall to exit, when there’s a perfectly good door to go through.”

Mike Robinson, CEO of British Safety Council, said: “The UK has an excellent record for health and safety, built over many decades. As a country, we led the way, we wrote the rule book, so why rip it up now? There are certainly areas of our current regulations where improvements could be made, but also big risks with the Government’s current approach. Without a solid floor of regulations, our great reputation as a leader in health and safety could slip away and our already weak productivity will suffer along with people’s health and wellbeing.

“The Government must rethink its approach and allow much more time for the process of reviewing the thousands of regulations at stake. It took five years for it to replace EU agricultural policy alone, so it seems unlikely it can deal with the rest in a matter of months.”

* Read the joint letter and full list of signatories here.

* Source: Trades Union Congress