As Britain is part of the European Union, much of the health and safety law originates in Europe. Proposals from the European Commission may be agreed by member states. The member states are then responsible for making them part of their national law.
In Britain itself and in much of Europe, health and safety law is based on the principle of risk. The main role of the EU in health and safety is to harmonize workplace and legal standards and remove barriers to trade across member states.
A Directive from the EU is legally binding on each member state and must be incorporated into the national law of each member state. Directives set out specific minimum aims which must be covered by the national law. Some states incorporate Directives more speedily than others.
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Directives are proposed by the European Commission, comprising commissioners, who are citizens of each of the member states. The proposed Directives are sent to the European Parliament which is directly elected from the member states. The European Parliament may accept, amend or reject the proposed Directives.
The proposed Directives are then passed to the Council of Ministers, who may accept the proposals on a qualified majority vote unless the European Parliament has rejected them, in which case they can only be accepted on a unanimous vote of the Council. The Council of Ministers consists of one senior government minister from each of the member states.
The powers of the EU in health and safety law are derived from the Treaty of Rome 1957 and the Single European Act 1986. For health and safety, the Single European Act added two additional Articles – 100A and 118A. The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam renumbered them as 95A and 138A, respectively.
Article 95A is concerned with health and safety standards of equipment and plant and its Directives are implemented in the UK by the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
Article 138A is concerned with minimum standards of health and safety in employment and its Directives are implemented by the Health and Safety Commission/Executive. The objective of the Single European Act 1986 is to produce a ‘ level playing field ’ for all member states so that goods and services can move freely around the EU without anyone state having an unfair advantage over another.
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The harmonization of health and safety requirements across the EU is one example of the ‘ level playing field ’ .
The first introduction of an EU Directive into UK health and safety law occurred on 1 January 1993 when a Framework Directive on Health and Safety Management and five daughter Directives were introduced using powers contained in the HSW Act 1974. These Directives, known as the European Six Pack, covered the following areas:
- Management of health and safety at work;
- Workplace; provision and use of work equipment;
- Manual handling; personal protective equipment;
- Display screen equipment.
Since 1993, several other EU Directives have been introduced into UK law.