April 21, 2015
Guest blogpost by Nathan Williams, founder and director of Subvise, the online portal for monitoring the status of your chemicals under REACH. Find out more at http://www.subvise.com
Have you been following the REACH regulation recently? We are fast approaching 2018, when over 75000 chemicals are expected to be registered. This will mean a lot of work, and a particular burden on SMEs, most of whom are unprepared.
Wait, what is REACH exactly?
If you don’t understand REACH, you’re not alone. REACH is easily the most complex chemical regulation in the world. Under previous chemical regulations, governments would test chemicals for safety and could set limits on their use. Companies could get certifications saying that their products were in compliance to the regulations. All was well… REACH, however, is different.
Under REACH, the company that manufactures or imports a chemical must prove that it is safe or that its use is safely controlled. Companies now have to work together, test the chemicals, describe their uses, share information up and down the supply chain, and register the results with the European Chemicals Agency (EChA). Any EU Member State can review the information, and if they feel the hazards of a chemical are not being properly controlled, they can propose measures to control the risks, even by banning the use of the substance.
REACH is really a regulatory framework that houses a massive amount of crowd-sourced data. New information on chemical hazard and chemical use is being generated every day. Keeping up with this steady information flow is becoming more and more challenging.
- Currently there are over 30 REACH-specific lists of chemicals produced by ECHA. Each list has a regulatory significance and a potential impact on the market. For a company to know the status of each the chemicals that they manufacture, import or use, they need to check all of their chemicals and every one of the ever-evolving ECHA lists.
- The contents of the REACH-specific lists change on a continuing basis. There were over 10.000 status updates to these lists in the past year alone.
- When certain hazard or acceptable use or risk management statuses of a substance are about to change, the public is invited to comment. This is the moment when an SME can have their voice heard. In 2014 there were 95 public consultations relevant for REACH and CLP – that’s 8 consultations per month. Unless an SME is constantly monitoring the situation, they will have no voice in the regulatory process.
Big companies can assign a team to help with testing, registration, lobbying, and monitoring the current statuses of each of their chemicals. SMEs find themselves unable to monitor this activity – this is not the type of regulation that allows you to just pay a consultant and get a certification of compliance. SMEs often mistakenly believe that someone else – perhaps their suppliers – is looking after their best interest. This is not the wisest business management plan: recall that chemical distributors who store and market chemicals are not downstream users and are not responsible for the evaluation of the hazard and use of chemicals.
Keeping SMEs in mind
REACH is so complex that the people who understand it best are often experts who write for other experts. To engage SMEs, this material has to be accessible to non-experts.
By 2018 every chemical that is manufactured or imported in quantities of 1 ton or more per year will have to be registered, and these substances are largely the domain of smaller businesses. They will need to have a minimum level of understanding in order to be in compliance.
There is no question that placing the responsibility on the manufacturer, importer and downstream user to assure chemical safety is a move in the right direction for human health and the environment. This is the way forward for chemical regulation and we see other countries around the world now following the EU’s example.
At the same time, we must make sure that the material and support is available so that small businesses can maintain their markets and continue providing the foundation for European enterprise.