The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulations were adopted by the UK in 2007. Enacted as a result of EU legislation, the Regulations apply to chemical substances manufactured or imported into the EU in quantities of 1 tonne or more per year.

What is the purpose of REACH?

The regulations’ main aims are to protect human health and the environment from possible chemical risks, but within that to promote sustainable development.

There is a duty of those who provide chemicals to the market (manufacturers and importers) to understand and manage the risks of the use of those chemicals.

Innovation and competitiveness is encouraged, as is the free movement of substances on the EU market.

Which “chemical substances” do the regulations apply to?

Chemical substances refer to individual substances, those used in solutions of two or more substances, or those used in articles where the chemical is intended to be released during use (such as a battery).

The regulations do not apply to some specifically excluded substances, which include radioactive substances, waste and some naturally occurring, low-hazard substances.

Other substances are covered by more specific legislation, and some have tailored provisions within the REACH regulations.

A 6 month pre-registration was introduced to allow companies to submit details of the chemicals being used to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, and the resulting list contained approximately 143,000 substances.

Who do the regulations apply to?

The regulations specify 3 main types of duty holder:

  • Manufacturers and Importers
  • Downstream users
  • Others, such as suppliers and distributors

A 'downstream user' is defined as anyone (other than the manufacturer, importer, supplier or distributor) who uses the substance in the course of his business. It does not include consumers.

Since almost all businesses use chemical substances in some form; in the manufacture of finished goods; to keep machinery operating; to keep premises clean, it is likely that most businesses may be classed as downstream users. Chemical substances include cleaning materials, solvents, glues, metals and paints.

What is required by REACH?

Because the main aim of the legislation is to identify and manage any risks associated with the use of chemical substances, companies manufacturing or marketing a product containing chemicals must first:

  • Register the chemical with the  ECHA
  • Provide evidence to the ECHA that the substance can be safely used
  • Notify downstream users of the chemical’s risks and provide information on how to manage those risks.

The EHCA uses the information provided to assess the potential hazards of each chemical and how any risk may be controlled, and uses the data to create a single set of information regarding the fundamental properties of the substance.

This information may then be shared by all companies manufacturing or supplying that chemical.

Where a chemical substance is judged to be too dangerous the ECHA and national authorities may require it to be replaced by one which is less hazardous.

Those substances posing a specific risk to health and safety may be banned for use across the EU, or their use may be restricted.

What about companies who use these chemicals in their business?

By law, companies using chemicals and chemical containing products must use them safely and in accordance with risk management information provided by the manufacturer or importer.

Other regulations, such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) include legislation on the safe use and management of chemical substances in the workplace.

Enforcing REACH

The main organisation responsible for enforcing REACH is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which works with the Environment Agency and other government bodies to ensure compliance.

Under the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008 it is “an offence for a person to contravene a 'listed REACH provision' or to cause or permit another person to do so”.

Anyone breaching a listed REACH provision may be tried and if found guilty may face the following penalties:

  • Up to £5,000 fine and/or up to three months imprisonment following summary conviction in a Magistrates Court; and
  • An unlimited fine and/or up to two years imprisonment following conviction on indictment for a Crown Court trial.

Following a recent change in the law, a breach of the Regulations may not automatically mean that an employer is negligence, in the event that an employee wishes to make an accident at work injury claim. A breach, is however, likely to indicate that an employer has failed in their duty of care to an injured worker.