Impact of Brexit on health and wellbeing at work: practitioners fear cutbacks

UKIP leader Nigel Farage resigns after playing a key part in achieving Brexit. Will the UK's exit from Europe lead to cuts to health and wellbeing at work? Joel Goodman/LNP/Shutterstock
UKIP leader Nigel Farage resigns after playing a key part in achieving Brexit. Will the UK's exit from Europe lead to cuts to health and wellbeing at work? Joel Goodman/LNP/Shutterstock

A UK exit from the EU could have significant repercussions for occupational health and health and safety, practitioners are warning.

The shock result of the 23 June EU referendum has plunged the UK into significant economic, financial and political turmoil and uncertainty, and the effects could be felt within workplace health and wellbeing.

Practitioners considering the impact of Brexit argued the consequences are likely to be felt most keenly in two key areas: the potential effect on health and wellbeing spending by employers if we see a downturn in the economy; and the possibility of health and safety legislation or regulation being amended or watered down.

As Dr Paul Nicholson, chairman of the British Medical Association’s occupational medicine committee, told OH&W: “The economic climate is very uncertain now. When companies’ profits decline, one of the things they often look to cut is headcount, and health and wellbeing will often not be seen as a profit centre and could therefore be something that is looked at.”

Lucy Kenyon, communications director for the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners, agreed. “There is the potential [that] employers will be less proactive around occupational health if the economy turns down – there could be less wellbeing work, less fitness-for-work activity, and it will just be more about getting people back to work. Employers will be looking to minimise.

“Having said that, occupational health is now embedded enough that many employers understand the benefit, both to the employer and employee. And there is a counter-argument that, in a recession or downturn, you need your skilled, experienced staff to be at work and fit and healthy even more,” she said.

While it is unlikely existing health and safety red tape will be unravelled or amended, there might be a knock-on effect in terms of future law making and regulation, argued Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.

Employers should review their benefits provision in the wake of the Brexit vote, advised employee benefits consultancy Jelf, while Mercer warned that healthcare costs for expatriate workers could also increase as a result.

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