Like millions of others, I have been worrying about the consequences of a No Deal Brexit. The prospect seems bleak and will affect this country and future generations for years to come. And the whole business has inflamed deeper divisions in our society in a very worrying way.
But what about practical issues like health and safety?
Standards of worker protection embodied in EU Directives would in future, Theresa May told us, be preserved as Britain left the political arrangements of the EU. Certainly safety standards embodied in traded goods, equipment and services etc. would need to be maintained, although Britain’s very useful information sharing role via bodies like EU-OSHA might disappear.
Now all that seems up in the air. Future trade deals with the US might cause standards to be lowered possibly. And the mantra about a bonfire of restrictive EU regulations might lead to a reopening of the attack on health and safety as an alleged “burden on business” – a false hypothesis it has taken the last 10 years to dispel. For example, with ideas like free ports on the horizon, will these free-for-all zones be free of health and safety enforcement too?
You don't have to be a political expert to realise that most of the progressive businesses which now embrace social responsibility and sustainability (the kind that enter and succeed in the RoSPA Health and Safety Awards system) are deeply opposed to No Deal. They tend to operate in an international environment and depend on being able to work easily across borders. They know that lower standards mean poorer quality and less reliability, and that accidents and work-related ill health are not only extremely expensive but also symptoms of organisational inefficiency. They know that good standards come from investment in training and using expert advice, and that visible, felt senior management leadership and real worker involvement are key to building a trust-based team culture that is the bedrock of commercial success.
But while they are effective in lobbying at the technical level, in my view they can often be too reserved in letting our political leaders know their views about wider strategic questions. When the Prime Minister, in his bid to become leader, used a four-letter expletive to describe the views of Britain’s business community, the leaders of that community seemed to me to take to it too easily on the chin and failed to respond with sufficient vigour.
The challenge in health and safety (and indeed in achieving big goals generally) is not to be defensive but to be proactive, to establish and communicate a vision of where we want to be next and how to get there. When it comes to saving lives, reducing injuries and ill health, this is still about: how to achieve good standards everywhere, every day, (including in the millions of SMEs on which our economy depends); tackling MSDs and stress-related ill health caused by work; keeping on top of our major hazards sites; tackling high accident rates in agriculture, construction and the waste sector; and helping people with health issues to remain in (and also get back into) work.
And it doesn’t stop at our shores. As a trading nation, we have a duty to help raise standards in workplaces around the globe. Britain has to lead by example.
It’s actually a huge, cornerstone national agenda, part of what is needed to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.
The next few weeks are going to be a turning point for our country. The health and safety community need to think even harder about what it will all mean for us in this sector and the vital role we play. And we all need to ensure our voice is heard.
Roger Bibbings MBE CFIOSH
Image by Adam Derewecki from Pixabay
Posted: 9/4/2019 4:32:56 PM