As the UK is expected to leave the EU on 29 March, a number of key areas of concern have emerged in respect of health and safety protections.
Stakeholders in the industry have identified serious consequences for the UK health and safety legal framework if there is a no-deal Brexit.
One such area relates to the regulations governing Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (known as REACH). These EU rules establish an agreed list of safe chemicals for use within the EU and facilitate the sharing of information of the type of safety controls that are required.
At present, while the EU remains an EU Member State, the UK position envisages that, after an initial period of accepting existing registered chemicals and authorisations, a "regulatory framework" similar to REACH will be established. The difficulty with this approach is that not only would it put a significant burden on importers and companies who use chemicals, but the existence of the two processes could lead to different chemicals being approved and potentially conflicting advices concerning controlling risks.
As a practical example, if an Irish company sources substances from a UK supplier, then its role under REACH is as a "downstream user" and therefore it has no registration obligations. However, after the UK withdraws from the EU, the UK will be a third country, meaning any substance imported into Ireland from the UK will be deemed to be imported from outside the EU. This means that any Irish company who continues to source their substances from a UK supplier after withdrawal will lose its "downstream user" status. Rather, they will have a role as an "importer" into the EU and will have "registration" obligations under REACH. Registration can be a resource intensive and costly process. If the Irish company wish to avoid future registration obligations, they must now consider sourcing those chemicals from another supplier based in one of the EU-27/EEA countries.
As with many other industries the risks to health and safety protections in a no deal scenario are clear. The reality is that, absent a clear agreement with the EU that commits to matching or exceeding future EU regulations, the onus will shift (once any transitory period is over) to the UK parliament to re-write and maintain health and safety laws.
Ireland's Health & Safety Authority has set out some useful information on Brexit related topics, which can be found here.
More information about Brexit and how it applies across a range of legal sectors can be found at the A&L Goodbody website here.
For more information in relation to this topic, please contact Jason Milne, Partner, or any member of A&L Goodbody's Health & Safety team.