Last week it was revealed that REACH, the EU's flagship chemicals Regulation, topped the list of the most burdensome legislative acts for SMEs.
The findings underline concerns raised by EEF is the past. We are genuinely worried about SMEs capacity to manage REACH effectively.
Our recent survey of members suggested the SMEs find it difficult to even monitor what's going on. As it is a piece of legislation which is still in the early stages of implementing its evaluation, authorisation and restriction elements, it is vital that companies assess which chemicals they are reliant on for their business to function and monitor REACH as new chemicals are brought into regulatory control.
You'll find few in industry who'll disagree with the aims of REACH: better protection of human health and the environment. We just want to see it work better.
That's why - along with some of the proposals outlined by the Commission in the REACH review to help ease the burden on SMEs - we are genuinely excited by the Roadmap on Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs), published by the Commission early February, just days after the REACH Review itself.
The Roadmap outlines how the Commission intends to manage the regulation of potential SVHCs between now and 2020. It has been published, in part, to help ECHA and Member States plan and to inject some predictability in REACH. However there is a distinct gap in the roadmap for where Industry has a role to play.
The roadmap signals the intention to get known SVHCs onto the Candidate List by 2020. New SVHC will also likely be identified through the evaluation of registration dossiers.
But significantly, it signals to the world a shift in approach: the Commission and Member States will to promote and employ a “risk management options” (RMO) approach. It should mean that Member States will be forced to consider the most appropriate form of regulatory intervention to manage risks posed by a particular substance, either using the regulatory tools provided by REACH (authorisation, restriction) or those outside of REACH (i.e. Water Framework Directive, worker exposure limits).
To us in the UK who have become familiar with risk-based regulation – targeting regulation where there are genuine risks – this probably doesn't seem at all novel. However, under REACH this has the potential to strip out a significant source of unnecessary burden by targeting action to where it is genuinely needed.
This is particularly important when dealing with chemicals with significant socio-economic benefits despite their relative risks. When used under tightly controlled conditions, there are some really compelling examples of substances on the Candidate List which can enhance product safety and durability with significant resource efficiency benefits – reduced waste, reduced emissions and with associated reduced upstream and downstream environmental impacts. These arguments are particularly strong when there is little or no chance of the general public getting anywhere near these substances. Therefore there is a need to balance the legislative driver of REACH, safer handling of dangerous chemicals, with other desirable policy outcomes notably resource and energy efficiency.
To some Member States this may be quite a different way of working to what they are used to. So it is welcome news to see that the Commission has established RiME, a cross member state joint meeting of risk management experts to discuss technical and scientific issues and to enhance cooperation on screening and RMO assessment. It is also a welcome step forward to see that the Commission intends to disclose which substances will be assessed in any given year.
This doesn't mean that substances won't be subject to authorisation in future – the process where use of a substance is only permitted if authorisation is granted by the European Commission. But it should mean that the decision to prioritise a substance for authorisation has been routinely considered alongside other regulatory choices.
This is still a voluntary process. The RMO process has no legal basis and therefore it isn't mandatory for member states to follow this process. That said, the Commission does has a mid-term objective of assessing 80 substances to the RMO process by the end of 2014 – so there will be a degree of political pressure to adopt this approach.
Of course the RMO brings up its own set of complications. It will be important that the RMO process is applied with the same degree of vigour across all Member States. Likewise, it is difficult to see how this process can operate effectively if consultation of stakeholders isn't carried out. Consultation is left just to member state discretion. Best practice in RMO analysis should also be promoted and shared across the member states so learning and an informal standard is achieved that's meets the needs of the SVHC Roadmap and Industry.
But if this approach is undertaken in a sensible and systematic way it could be a far more effective and, at the same time, a less burdensome piece of legislation for industry to manage.