As the referendum draws closer, voters in the UK should be asking themselves “what has EU ever done for health and safety?”
Monty Python’s The Life of Brian is now almost 40 years old, and yet the moment where John Cleese asks “What have the Romans ever done for us?” is still relevant today, even more so as the EU referendum fast approaches. That question is — in the old routine — followed by a series of things the Romans did do for us. In much the same way, the question “What have the EU ever done for health and safety?” might also be followed by a series of things the EU has done for health and safety.
However, the real question is “has the EU ever done anything good for health and safety?” After all, there’s no doubting their influence on British workplaces, and the UK as a whole, but has it always been a positive influence?
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How Does the EU Affect Health and Safety?
One thing that should be pointed out is that the EU regulation can’t just force itself the British workplace on a whim. According to HSE’s appraisal of the situation, it often takes several years for regulation suggested in Brussels to affect a warehouse in Milton Keynes or anywhere else in the UK. The reason for this is that there are many checks on the EU’s power over HSE.
However, just because it might take a long time, that doesn’t mean that it won’t eventually happen, even if there is strong opposition. In 2006, for example, an EU Directive on artificial optical radiation was heavily opposed by the British parliament. Despite this, the directive had to go into effect so as to adhere to EU law. HSE still follows the directive, but only at the barest possible minimum.
The UK controls to what extent it will follow EU health and safety legislation with transposition notes. These are amendments that accompany EU Directives and they are the UK’s way of implementing EU regulation in a way that best works for British businesses and British people. Depending on how you feel about a particular EU Directive, the fact that the British government can’t simply overturn it may be something you support. To give just one example, much of the UK’s commitment to environmental safety, an increasingly important part health and safety, comes from its adherence to EU law.
The EU, HSE, SEMA, and You
It’s clear that the EU are an influential voice in health and safety and that this can sometimes be a good thing and this can sometimes be a bad thing. Still, it’s also important to recognise that the EU is not the only voice and that the influence doesn’t just go one way. As we have previously mentioned, SEMA has its own influence over the EU and this influence helps to give SEMA its authority.
At its worst, the EU imposes rules on the UK which negatively affect health and safety and which the UK uphold under duress. At its best, the EU helps us to shape laws that better the lives of everyone and hold governments to account when they don’t deliver on their health and safety promises. The relationship between the EU, HSE, SEMA, and British businesses is a conversation. Your vote will depend on whether or not you feel the EU has anything worthwhile to say.
How Does the EU Affect Racking Inspections and Racking Inspection Training?
Despite the EU and SEMA’s relationship, the requirement that businesses receive a pallet rack inspection at least once a year from a racking inspection expert (such as a SEMA approved rack inspector) is not an EU directive. This is something which HSE decided to implement on its own.
That decision may have been inspired by an EU Directive, but this is why looking at the EU’s relationship with — and influence on — British health and safety is so difficult. As HSE itself has admitted, “maintaining a strategic overview” of the relationship between HSE and the EU is filled with “particular challenges”. This is because of the length of time it takes to implement an EU Directive and how much back and forth there is between the two bodies during that time.
Despite all this, HSE’s recommendation is something that is unlikely to change regardless of the result of the referendum. The EU and SEMA’s relationship may go some way to legitimising SEMA’s authority, but even without this SEMA are still a well-respected organisation and this is unlikely to change outside of the EU.
Whatever the result of the referendum, we will continue to deliver expert racking inspections and racking inspection training for businesses across the UK. The result will not affect our continued commitment to the highest standards of racking safety.