Retained EU Law Bill could put construction safety back by decades

Retained EU Law Bill
Under the Retained EU Law Bill, CDM and other safety regs could be lost

Government plans to ‘sunset’ EU derived legislation could result in construction safety standards sliding back to the levels of the 1970s.

Safety groups have warned key pieces of construction safety legislation could be lost by the end of the year if the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (REUL) goes ahead.

Legislation that could be lost includes the 2015 Construction Design and Management Regulations and Management of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations. As well as Workplace Health, Safety at Work Regulations.

There are also hundreds of other safety standards relating to Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, asbestos and confined spaces. Legislation affected is contained on a government dashboard.

Building Safety Act in jeopardy

British Safety Council chief executive Mike Robinson said: “Construction and building safety have long been recognised as higher-risk areas.

“The Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 (CDM), which was based on an EU directive, creates a framework for securing the health and safety of people during and after construction projects.

“The recent Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) will soon be supported by new secondary legislation which imposes additional requirements on ‘duty holders’ – as identified by the CDM regulations – when working on higher-risk residential buildings.

“But take CDM away, as could happen under the REUL Bill, and where does that leave health and safety in construction? Could a founding principle of the UK’s new BSA crumble away even before the Act is fully implemented?”

After the UK left the European Union, thousands of pieces of EU legislation were retained to avoid chaos. They became known as retained EU law and the idea was to replace them with new domestic laws over time.

However, the Retained EU Law Bill has imposed a deadline of sunsetting all laws by 31 December this year. Government ministries and devolved governments can step in and preserve legislation by writing it into domestic statute books.

Not enough time

But safety groups and others are concerned that as there are an estimated 4,000 pieces of legislation, government authorities will be hard pressed to review and write new legislation by the end of year deadline.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said it was not against change, but argued reform should not be undertaken “casually” but “thoroughly” and more time was needed.

“If the government rushes to remove vital legislation without putting a thorough consultative process in place, we stand to lose over 20 years of industry progress and to see a significant uptick in deaths.”

Nathan Davies, RoSPA

RoSPA head of policy Nathan Davies said: ”According to figures from the HSE, the rate of fatal injury in the workplace in the construction industry is around four times as high as the average rate in all industries.

“If the government rushes to remove vital legislation without putting a thorough consultative process in place, we stand to lose over 20 years of industry progress and to see a significant uptick in deaths – with workplace death levels akin to the 70s and 80s.”

Davies added: “This is a recipe to get people killed because this is legislation designed to protect people. The worst performers will not do anything if there isn’t a law saying they have to. If they don’t have to do it, they won’t. And that will get people killed.

“Construction is infinitely safer than it’s ever been before. How can we put that at risk?”

Even toilets and restrooms at risk

He added that even important standards that we now take for granted could roll back. “Things like toilets, rest rooms to eat, effective fall protection equipment and reliable 110v electrics, protecting the site from children.

“These are things that just weren’t provided on most sites in the past and we must not allow construction work to fall back in the dark ages. Being uncontrolled and unplanned, delivered by workers who haven’t got the right information or the correct level of training.”

Occupational health and safety expert Professor Andrew Watterson at Stirling University in Scotland, said RUEL would damage the Building Safety Act 2022 implementation.

He said the REUL bill was “unwanted” from an occupational health and safety (OSH) perspective, and would cause “confusion and delay” in dealing with construction OSH problems.

Growing concerns about harms

Watterson argued: “At a time when worries are growing about musculoskeletal disorders, stress, silica exposure, noise, vibration, chemical usage in construction materials (relating to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors and the use of per- or poly-fluorinated alkyl substances, exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons etc), REUL will surely damage regulation, monitoring and enforcement further when there are already very serious shortcomings in the Health and Safety Executive vividly exposed over the last couple of years.”

RoSPA is in the signing off stages of launching a coalition of organisations to campaign on this issue.

REUL does not just involve construction legislation, but also environmental, food safety and standards, product safety including toys, rules on child seatbelts, and hazardous substances and chemical safety.

REUL is currently being considered in the House of Lords.

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  1. I pointed this out years ago, when the UK were having discussions with the EU. It was around the time that the then PM, Theresa May’s Red Lines were being debated and I knew that this was going to happen.

    The Government took work place provisions, including health and safety regulations, out of the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and put these into the Political Declaration which was very concerning at the time as they can simply be discarded at a later date. I am sorry to say, but the Conservatives dislike H&S. Remember PM David Cameron, who wanted to abolish the H&S Executive? We will simply go back to the 1974 Act, in the blink of an eye.

    I’m sure that there was an expectation, that after Grenfell, things were going to be tightened, not potentially scrapped. No one likes bureaucracy in health and safety and this could be a great opportunity to change things for the better. But the bath water will be thrown out with the baby if we are not careful.

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