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TUC: Brexit could put millions of people at greater risk of accident or injury at work

Leaving the EU could put millions of people in the UK at increased risk of accidents or injuries in the workplace, says a TUC report published today (Thursday) to coincide with International Workers’ Memorial Day. 

EU Membership and Health & Safety finds that EU legislation has helped stop illnesses and injuries at work, and saved lives.

Much of the health & safety law in the UK is now underpinned by the EU, says the report. Almost two-thirds (63%) of new British health & safety regulations introduced between 1997-2009 originated in Europe (41 out of 65 laws).

These new safety rules have contributed to a reduction in workplace fatalities in the UK. In 1992 there were 368 worker fatalities in Britain; this dropped to 142 last year. Over this period, the rate of deaths fell from 1.5 to 0.46 per 100,000 workers.

The report notes a several areas where EU law has had a significant impact:

  • The EU forced the UK to strengthen safety rules in construction – one of the most dangerous industries.
  • Rules protecting police officers were also made stronger by the EU.
  • The EU increased protections against asbestos. Asbestos is the biggest cause of occupational death in the UK – causing 5,000 deaths a year.

If the UK votes to leave the EU, the government would be able to decide whether or not to keep protections derived from EU laws. There is no guarantee that they would keep health & safety legislation at its current level. In fact the government has indicated it wants to reduce this so-called ‘red tape’ of EU protection. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Today, we commemorate all those who have died at work – and vow to redouble our efforts to make sure everyone is safe from illness and injury at work. Trade unions have fought for protections from dangerous workplaces for as long as we have existed.

“On International Workers’ Memorial Day 2016, it’s clear that voting to leave the EU is a big risk for people’s safety at work. Brexit could see many of the vital protections that keep workers safe in shops, factories, offices or on building sites stripped away, leaving millions of people at increased risk of accident or injury in the workplace.

“The government has already hinted its readiness to water down key health & safety rules should Britain vote Leave in June. And we know that some of the biggest cheerleaders for Brexit see protections for ordinary British workers – like health and safety law – as just red tape to be binned.”


  • EU Membership and Health and Safety is available at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/EU_Health_Safety_Report.pdf  
  • The DWP has published a report outlining the removal of the requirement for employers to provide eyesight tests for display screen equipment users, and the requirement for small, low risk businesses to make a written risk assessments. It’s available at www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/367410...  
  • International Workers’ Memorial Day serves as a reminder to workers across the globe that many of them are at daily risk of accidents, injury and illness at work. The event is an international annual day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled and injured by their work. For more information about the TUC’s involvement in the day please visitwww.tuc.org.uk/WMD2016  
  • All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk  
  • Follow the TUC on Twitter: @The_TUC and follow the TUC press team @tucnews
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