REACH is designed to protect people and the environment from the harmful effects of chemicals and things made from them. They are European-wide regulations, affecting an incredibly diverse range of substances, goods and products.
Some companies will have no doubt that they need to take action to comply with REACH, but others will be confused and uncertain. Here are ten things you really need to know about compliance.
1) Who is affected
It’s a pretty wide field. The main compliance duties of REACH fall on companies which make or import chemicals, chemical substances, or things made from them. That includes neat chemicals, mixes of more than one chemical, and any product that contain the chemicals if they’re going to be released from it.
The Health and Safety Executive it is likely that anyone importing any products in bulk from outside the EU will have some responsibilities under the regulations. It doesn’t end there though. There are also responsibilities for companies who go on to distribute the chemicals and other products, and on those who use them as ingredients to make something else.
2) Registration and authorisation
Every company making or importing into the European Union more than a tonne of chemicals, or products made from them, must register with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
To be authorised to sell or use anything on the list of “Substances of Very High Concern”, companies must prove there are no safer suitable alternatives. They must also show that they are adequately controlling the risks from the material, or that the risks are outweighed by the benefits of using it.
3) What needs to be registered
The individual chemicals which go to make up what you are manufacturing or selling, not details of the mixture. You will need to provide a report on each chemical and its hazards and labelling.
The wording of the regulations specifically excludes several substances from having to comply. The list includes waste, naturally occurring materials which are a low-hazard, substances being held in customs to be re-exported, and radioactive material.
Some products aren’t covered by REACH because they fall under other strict regulations. Among them are food, medicines (for people or animals) and products to protect plants.
5) Data sheets
If you are dealing in anything classified as dangerous or hazardous you need to send with it a safety data sheet, whether you are the manufacturer/importer or a distributor further down the chain.
The regulations list the information the sheet must give, and include details of the chemicals, the hazards they pose, how to treat accidents, and safe disposal. The same information has to be passed all the way to the end user. There are exceptions if the end users are the general public and you provide them with similar information in another way.
6) Trader or importer?
You might think of yourself as a trader rather than an importer, but if you are buying in goods from outside the EU and selling them on, you are importing. If you are doing it in large enough quantities you are covered by REACH and need to comply with it.
If you are taking ingredients and mixing them, you have a duty too. You must make sure that all the warnings and information which came with the ingredients are included with the new product, either in data sheets or consumer information and labelling.
If there are no data sheets you should contact your supplier and request one. If your supplier is outside the EU and you are importing more than a tonne a year you will need to register.
8) Recycling/Waste Management
Waste is exempt from REACH, but recycling or recovering substances from waste isn’t. It is classed as manufacturing under REACH, even if it isn’t classed as manufacturing under other laws or regulations.
You may need to register but there are some exceptions, such as compost, biogas, and some metals.
9) Biofuel Makers
Using vegetable oils or animal fats to make biofuels is manufacturing under REACH. If the ingredients are not waste products, and you are making the fuel in sufficient quantities, you will need to register. However, if you are making biofuels from waste products you may be exempt.
It’s a criminal offence not to follow most of the requirements of REACH. There are also penalties for failing to follow enforcement notices, or for providing false or misleading information. For some offences maximum sentences are unlimited fines and up to two years in jail.
In Britain, REACH became law in 2007 and it’s gradually been phased in since then; it should be fully in force by 2018. Because of this, exactly what a business needs to do is changing year on year. These are wide-ranging and complex regulations with consequences which aren’t necessarily immediately obvious.
If there were a number 11 on this list of things you need to know about REACH compliance, it would be to get expert advice from a dedicated company such as The National Chemical Emergency Centre.
About the author: Written by Katharina John, a professional in the health and safety sector who recently contacted The National Chemical Emergency Centre for advice when applying for REACH compliance.
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