What are the REACH chemical regulations?

Around 30,000 chemicals are marketed in the EU. The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulations (REACH) provides the legal framework for protecting human health against the risks posed by exposure to hazardous materials.

REACH is a piece of European legislation that was adopted in the UK in 2007. Its primary aim is to improve the protection of health and the environment from the risks that are posed by dangerous chemicals.

The legislation operates alongside other regimes for the safe use of chemicals such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

When does REACH apply?

REACH applies to all chemicals and chemical-containing products that are:

  • Used in industrial processes and in day-to-day life, such as the chemicals used in paint, cleaning products and furniture; and
  • Manufactured or imported into the European Union in quantities of 1 tonne or more per year.

As such, the legislation has an impact on most organisations across the European Union.

Some substances are specifically excluded from REACH as other, more specific legislation applies to them. This includes the chemicals used in medicines, food, food additives and biocides.

How does REACH work?

The main thrust of the legislation is to place the burden of proof on companies to identify and manage the risks associated with chemicals. Before manufacturing or marketing a chemical-containing product in the EU, a company must:

  • Register the chemical with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)
  • Demonstrate to ECHA how the substance can be safely used; and
  • Notify users about the risks associated with the chemical and how they can be managed.

The information supplied to ECHA is used to assess the hazards associated with a particular chemical and how those risks can be controlled. The idea is to generate a single set of information about the intrinsic properties of a substance that can be shared by all the companies that manufacture or supply that chemical.

If a chemical substance is deemed too hazardous, ECHA and national authorities may require that it is substituted with a less dangerous one. Substances that pose a particular threat may be restricted or banned for use across the EU.

What about the end users of chemicals?

REACH imposes duties on the companies that purchase chemical and chemical-containing products to use them in a safe way according to the risk management information provided by the manufacturer.

How is REACH enforced?

Under the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008, the authority responsible for the enforcement of REACH in the UK is the Health and Safety Executive working with the Environment Agency and various other government bodies.

The Enforcement Regulations make the contravention of REACH a criminal offence. If convicted, offenders may face various penalties including fines and imprisonment.