New research says EU regulation working.
Two years ago this week, the Prime Minister’s business taskforce said relaxing the European Commission’s rules on health and safety risk assessments would save £2.7bn. Meanwhile a piece by prominent Conservative Harry Phibbs on the “Conservative Home” website claims, that “There is plenty of gold plating of EU regulations – about health and safety amongst a lot more besides. Often we will be told when these restrictions are publicised that they are “Euro Myths”.
The belief that Europe’s regulations are causing a “burden” on British Industry, or that they are over-complied with, has long been a mantra from successive governments. Over the past five years, the British Government has desperately tried to not only prevent the European Commission from agreeing any further rules on areas such as cancers, and musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain, but also sought to reduce the protection that we have by trying to get opt-out for smaller employers, and a comprehensive review of all existing regulations to see if they can be removed or reduced. Even the Commission itself says it needs to review all the regulations to make sure they are not a “burden”.
Well, bad news for all those captains of industry and politicians who have been taking aim at Europe and claiming that all these health and safety regulations are either unnecessary or a burden. There is now pretty conclusive proof that it is not true.
Over the past year or so a group of researchers have been conducting a massive research exercise into the practical implementation of all the main 24 directives on occupational safety and health in the 27 members states. They looked at whether they are relevant, effective and coherent. The researchers were funded by the European Commission and talked to governments, inspectors, businesses and workers representatives. The result is the biggest ever research into European health and safety laws.
The final report is over 400 pages long with hundreds more pages in appendices. I am sure you would all want to read it. Unfortunately you can’t, because it has not been published, despite having been completed. It may be published next year if the Commission agrees, but meanwhile it is being kept under wraps.
However, because of one of these weird and wonderful twists of bureaucracy some of the findings have been published on one of the Commission’s websites. The European Commission’s Advisory Committee on Safety at Work have agreed an opinion on the report which includes a summary of all the main points, and it has been published on their website. It is not exactly easy to find. To read it, just go to the bottom of the page and click on the “library entries”, and it is under “opinions adopted”, 2015.
The opinion makes wonderful reading as it outlines the main recommendations from the full (still secret) report. In a nutshell, the research report says that the EU framework is coherent with few overlaps. The regulations have also been transposed into national states well with very few problems. Over all the effect is good, especially for workers health and safety, and there is no evidence of the regulations being a burden. One of the conclusions in the report is that “Strong evidence suggests that employee representation has noticeable influence on the proportion of establishments performing risk assessments and an even more pronounced impact on other key requirements.” It also stresses the importance of enforcement and inspection.
All that is pretty positive. What is also interesting is the view of the Advisory Committee. Now this is a body made up of one government, one union and one employer representative from each of the 27 EU Countries and an opinion can only be agreed if a majority of all three groups support it. What they say is that there is no need for a full recast of the directives and the current structure should remain, and, instead, more emphasis should be put on enforcement and compliance, The advisory committee even says, in the case of stress, musculoskeletal disorders and aging workers, new action is needed.
So there you have it. A majority of the representatives of the European Employers and Governments saying that they seem to like what we have, and perhaps me might need a bit more of it.