The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 received Royal Assent on 29 June 2023, and while much of the Act is now in force, many of the changes will not take place until the end of the year.

The “sunset” provision in the original Bill has been removed, under which 4,800 EU-derived laws, including the Work at Height Regulations, were set to be automatically repealed at the end of the year. The indiscriminate sunset clause has instead been replaced with a much shorter list of 600 retained EU laws that the Government intends to revoke.

The Work at Height Regulations are ‘safe’

After many months of campaigning, the Access Industry Forum (AIF) is delighted that the Work at Height Regulations – vital in keeping anyone who works at height safe – do not appear on the list of laws to be revoked.

The Work at Height Regulations are important to anyone who works at height as part of their job. It’s a daily occurrence, with an estimated 10 million of us climbing a ladder, ascending scaffolding or finding another way to work at height every year. The Regulations have led to a reduction in falls since their introduction in 2005, but falling from height remains the most common cause of workplace fatalities and a major cause of life-changing injuries.

On the face of it, the Work at Height Regulations are safe – for now. The AIF has received assurances from the Health and Safety Executive that industry will be consulted on any future amendments to the Regulations, but the reality is that right now, as the law stands, the Secretary of State alone has the power to revoke or amend without consultation from ministers or key stakeholders.

The benefits of reform

The AIF supports the Department for Business and Trade’s policy paper “Smarter Regulation to Grow the Economy”, and agrees that some areas of health and safety law could benefit from reform (the AIF have long campaigned for an overhaul of RIDDOR to simplify and improve reporting and data collection, particularly in the case of falls from height), but only when the right stakeholders are involved in the process. We simply can’t afford now to lose sight of why the laws were needed in the first place.

Our message

The AIF urges caution in prematurely celebrating the long-term security of the Work at Height Regulations. The potential for reform remains and we should be acutely aware this could result in a diluted version of the regulations.

For now, we can take some comfort from the assurance from the HSE that relevant stakeholders will be consulted in any future review, but we must also keep in mind that the Act provides that the Secretary of State could revoke or reform, without the mandatory need to consult with anyone.

We advise all interested parties to carefully monitor the Retained EU law dashboard for changes to the status of the retained EU laws, and to ensure parliamentarians are aware that changes could be made to important secondary safety regulations without prior knowledge or consultation.