REACH review starts to unpick challenges for SMEs – but some major challenges overlooked

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After months of delay and procrastination, yesterday the European Commission published its long-awaited 5-year review of REACH, the EU's flagship Regulation on the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals.

We've been concerned about REACH for a while. There are some significant business risks associated with REACH and we've been trying to get the message out to our members that this is something they need to be monitoring closely. We are starting to see companies getting caught out because they have not been planning for the changes that REACH is ushering in. And when companies get caught out they could see certain business activities being stopped or run into serious operational issues. Monitoring and planning can minimise risks. Read my earlier blog to find out more about the potential implications for manufacturers.

As well as manufacturers being more proactive, we have been arguing that there are things the Commission could do to minimise risks and improve the efficiency and functioning of REACH, from a downstream user's perspective. We've been working hard over the last year to raise these issues with government and the Commission. So to what extent have our concerns been acted on?

In line with expectations, the Commission has shied away from recommending or proposing any changes to the text itself and instead has outlined a range of non-legislative measures to support more effective implementation. You can read the full review here - a short general report and a longer, more detailed staff working document. But here's our quick stock-take of key issues for manufacturers

Positives

Issue: SMEsEEF position: the cost and complexity of REACH presents unique challenges for SMEs. We need better targeted guidance, reduced costs and better support for our smaller companies.Commission response: this proved to be one of the areas the Commission has acted most decisively with commitments to improve guidance, reduce costs and monitor potential impacts.

Issue: awareness of REACH amongst professional and commercial users of chemicalsEEF position: downstream users have poor awareness that REACH applies to them. EEF surveys have shown 20% of manufacturers think it didn't apply to them and a further 30% said it wasn't a significant issue for their business.Commission response: the Commission recognised that awareness is low, particularly amongst SMEs and has made a commitment to do more to raise awareness of REACH.

Issue: guidanceEEF position: we need better guidance on cost-sharing within industry consortia and clearer guidance on the use of business sensitive information within REACH.Commission response: the Commission has agreed and has asked the European Chemicals Agency to bridge this gap.

Issue: poor quality extended Safety Data SheetsEEF position: the quality of eSDS needs to be urgently improvedCommission response: the Commission has outlined a number of recommendations to ECHA to improve eSDS clarity and consistency.

Negatives

Issue: authorisationEEF position: there are significant risks faced by manufacturers as a result of the authorisation process. We need greater clarity of what is expected by applicants including transparency over the criteria that will be used to judge authorisation applications.Commission response: the Commission has not really addressed this, partly because in its view it is too early to judge the authorisation process. It made only a commitment to “facilitate the understanding of the authorisation process amongst all actors, including downstream users.”

Issue: impact on competitiveness and innovationEEF position: we have called on the Commission to properly consider the impact of REACH on the competitiveness of professional and commercial users of chemicals, inward investment and on innovation activity.Commission response: focus of analysis predominately on the chemicals industry. However there is a commitment to monitor the situation for downstream users in future.

Issue: treatment of nanomaterialsEEF position: we want clarity on how nanomaterials are to be treated under REACHCommission response: some REACH annexes will be amended – but we don't know which and to what end.

In conclusion, there has been some progress by the Commission to make REACH more workable. But there remain some enormous challenges. We will have to closely monitor the situation with our members and relay the experience from the ground back to policy makers and regulators. We will need to ensure that guidance is fit for purpose and meets the needs of the business community and we need to carefully ensure that our competitiveness, and our ability to innovation, isn't being detrimentally eroded.

If you are not monitoring REACH you could make a good start by signing up to our free substance alert service. You may even consider REACH training or a compliance audit by one of our consultants.

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