Government responds to fears Work at Height Regs will be scrapped

The UK government has responded The Access Industry Forum (AIF) campaign to stop the UK’s Work at Height Regulations being scrapped. 

The Work at Height Regulations are part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which is being considered by the UK Parliament.

The Bill seeks to remove EU-derived laws that remain on the UK statute book following Brexit. It could see more than 2,400 laws scrapped, with the Work at Height Regulations being just one of them. There are many more within the health and safety category, including the Manual Handling Operations Regulations and Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations.

If the Bill passes, the regulations will automatically be axed on 31 December 2023, unless the government takes action to save individual regulations.

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The Access Industry Forum (AIF) started its campaign last year to stop the UK’s Work at Height Regulations being repealed as part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which is being considered by the UK Parliament.

AIF, which incorporates the country’s ten principal trade associations involved in work at height, including PASMA and the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), points out that the introduction of the Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) in 2005 followed extensive UK stakeholder consultation and therefore should not be swept away in a mass clear out of regulations.

Following AI’s request for comment, the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said it had no intention of abandoning the UK’s strong record on workers’ rights, “having raised domestic standards over recent years to make them some of the highest in the world.”

The department spokesperson added, “Through the Retained EU Law Bill, important EU safety legislation will be retained, maintaining the United Kingdom’s high standards of health and safety protection whilst continuing to reduce burdens for business.”

Regulation history

Some in the access industry have pointed out that the UK Work at Height Regulations have helped build the global low level access market, for which the UK remains a leader, and Peter Bennett OBE, chair of the AIF, has urged the government to exclude them from repeal. “The Work at Height Regulations is a compact piece of legislation that creates a useful framework for employers to manage the risks and avoid falls from height.

Bennett added, “The rules are straightforward and practical, they’re embedded in existing policies, procedures and training, and although they’re not perfect, the most important thing is that they work.

“I’m in no doubt that the Work at Height Regulations have saved lives and if this legislation cannot be rescued from the scrapheap, it is workers who will pay the highest price of all.”

The calls are being backed by the industry, including the world’s largest manufacturer of access equipment, JLG, which incorporates leading low level access specialist Power Towers. The company’s director of engineering for Europe Barrie Lyndsay echoed the AIF’s view.

He said, “We would align with the general sentiment that repealing this regulation makes no sense and believe that the benefits this legislation has driven to safe working at height are now well recognised by industry and as such will remain the standard.”

Industry support

IPAF has also given its backing to the campaign. In a letter sent to the UK Members of Parliament (MPs) in Cumbria and North Lancashire, where IPAF is based, as well as Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, IPAF’s managing director and CEO Peter Douglas writes that an estimated 1 million companies and 10 million individuals carry out some form of working at height every year.

“Despite the progress made in recent years, falling from height remains the most common cause of workplace fatalities. WAHR provide a strong legislative backdrop for industry initiatives, which we believe has made the UK a safer place to work at height. It would be a significantly retrograde step if the Government fails to assimilate these regulations into UK law.

IPAF reporting portal

“Were this to happen, it will result in more people falling from height. Falls often have life-changing consequences for the victim and their family. A fall survivor is unlikely to return to their previous occupation – if they return to work at all. There are huge emotional costs for the family, colleagues and those who witnessed the fall.”

Douglas added, “Long-term financial implications can include income support, costs to the NHS and ancillary services, costs of at-home care and the cost to employers for dealing with issues and investigations, fines, and additional insurance premiums.”

If the Bill does seem set to pass at the end of the year, without specific reassurances on health and safety legislation, AIF said it will begin the battle to persuade ministers to replace the Work at Height Regulations with a new domestic law offering equal protection for workers, before the automatic expiry date kicks in on 31 December 2023 – or at the very least to allow a ‘stay of execution’, permitted until June 2026, to allow further consultation.

The forum added, “The big risk is this process could result in a watered down version of the regulations, since the Bill allows replacement regulations to be made less burdensome but not more burdensome for employers and any changes can be pushed through without any stakeholder consultation or parliamentary debate.”

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