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Brexit and health, safety and substitute components

Gillian Birkby, our legal adviser from Fladgate LLP, shares her thoughts on how leaving the EU may affect the UK construction industry.

It is worth looking at the situation from a European point of view.  It is likely our nearest neighbours will still want to sell into the UK after Brexit, the same goods and products they do now.  Just as they’ve always done, supermarkets – and other businesses – will want to work out ways of putting goods on the shelves in Calais or Colchester. After all, we all want to continue business as usual, making a profit out of selling what people want to buy: tomatoes, purchased from a grower in the Canary Islands, are after all still tomatoes.  
The same principles ought to apply to European goods needed for construction projects, but here the situation is slightly different.  Most specifications, when identifying particular products, state, ‘or similar equivalent’ - or words to that effect.  The substitution of, ‘similar equivalent’ materials is endemic in the construction industry, sometimes for cost reasons, or because the lead times are too long.  If there is an actual, or perceived, delay in getting a hold of European products for construction work, there may be more substitution than usual.   This may be to avoid a potential cost risk – delays can be expensive.  It will be vital that any substitutions are properly scrutinised to make sure they meet health and safety and other requirements, especially if there is pressure to avoid delaying the project. From a health and safety perspective the implications of substitutions must be identified and managed correctly.