Shaping safety rules and regulations
05 May 2017
The UK’s vote to exit the European Union could have many implications for the cleaning industry supply chain, in particular for the rules and regulations that govern safe practice, says Jangro operations director Joanne Gilliard
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) legislation and many other health & safety laws, labelling and classification systems are intrinsically linked with European regulations. COSHH came into force in the UK in 1988, but has on a number of occasions been revised to come in line with European directives, the most recent of which was in 2002. The majority of chemicals used in the cleaning industry are not dangerous if they are handled properly, and if users are correctly trained as to what to do if something goes wrong, such as a spillage. COSHH deals with protecting operatives from the risks of working with hazardous substances so as not to endanger themselves or anyone else.
Another important health & safety law highly relevant to the cleaning industry is the 2009 CLP regulation, dealing with classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures. This law deals with the general classifications of the appropriate pictograms and safety precautions shown on product labels, and is also a piece of European legislation.
The negotiations for the UK to leave the EU only began at the end of March, so for the short- to medium-term at least, very little will change when it comes to health & safety legislation in the UK. In the meantime, there is certainly a lot to be said for the ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ argument when we do come to look at how the UK will govern health & safety post-Brexit, since COSHH, CLP and other health & safety laws currently work well.
The existing regulations have brought standardisation to health & safety in the cleaning industry, and have helped shape the training landscape too. But over the long-term, the UK’s changing relationship with the EU will inevitably lead to an evolution in our regulatory environment. It is crucial that a level playing field is maintained, and that the UK’s laws are in-line with European and international standards, either as equivalents or, ideally, as examples of the most up-to-date best practice.
What must be avoided is the cleaning industry supply chain facing multiple sets of requirements. Companies in the UK that wish to trade in the EU will need to continue to adhere to EU product safety directives and health and safety laws. While the existing laws have been incredibly worthwhile when it comes to protecting workers and the environment from exposure to hazardous substances, they have also been expensive to implement since their introduction. Any updates to existing health and safety laws must maintain high standards, but should be streamlined to minimise the cost burden, and factor in a suitable transitionary period for businesses to adapt.
With change comes opportunity, and while any updates to our health and safety legislation are likely to be many years down the line, it is important to consider what could be achieved. A recent report from independent employers' organisation the Confederation of British Industry said that some businesses saw opportunities for risk-based reform of what are today hazard-based regulations in the long-term, for instance. Brexit gives the UK government the chance to review the laws that are currently in place, and gives the cleaning industry a chance to inform and shape the debate.
Limiting workers’ exposure to substances that could harm them is vitally important, and the cleaning industry has worked hard to comply with existing laws, developing a myriad of risk assessments, training programmes and best practice guides to help users clean safely and efficiently. Whatever happens, health and safety must stay at the forefront of training and development in the cleaning industry – making sure workers’ exposure to hazards and risks is limited is a crucial part of doing good business. Each aspect of existing health and safety law should be reviewed against its merits and cutting-edge best practice, and not against where the regulation originated.