18 Jul 2023
A Simplified Guide for Businesses and EHS Compliance
The REACH Regulation is a very complex piece of legislation which applies to the manufacture, import and use of chemicals. In our experience as EHS consultants, we often see that organisations to whom REACH applies have a limited understanding of how it applies to them. In this article, our Associate Environmental, Health and Safety Consultant Jonathan Teale explains in simple terms what REACH is about and how it may apply to your business.
What is REACH?
The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation concerns the manufacture, import and in some cases, use of chemicals. REACH concerns all chemicals, not just hazardous, however, there are a number of exempt substances (more on this below).
Manufacturers and importers are required to register every chemical they make or import if it exceeds 1 tonne per annum. In Great Britain, that registration process is regulated by the Health and Safety Executive. Failure to register can result in prosecution.
The registration process requires the submission of detailed technical information concerning the chemical, and the payment of a fee (which can be substantial).
In addition to registration requirements which apply to most chemicals, there are additional restrictions which apply to the use of a limited number of listed high-risk chemicals.
Is REACH a European Regulation?
REACH is a European regulation which applies to organisations in EU member states. European manufacturers and importers register chemicals with the European Chemicals Agency.
As part of the Brexit process, the REACH Regulation (along with many other EU Regulations) was duplicated into UK law, subject to various amendments to make it specific to the post-Brexit UK. Therefore REACH continues to apply in the UK, but in a modified form. To keep things simple, I’ve referred below to the UK version of the REACH Regulation as UK REACH and the EU as EU REACH.
Has anything changed since Brexit?
Prior to Brexit, EU REACH applied to organisations making or importing chemicals from outside the EU into the EU in quantities > 1 tonne p.a. This meant that an organisation which was importing a substance from one EU state to another (e.g. from France to the UK) was not subject to EU REACH.
From 1st January 2021, UK REACH now applies to organisations either making or importing chemicals > 1 tonne p.a. into Great Britain. Using our example above, importing chemicals from France to the UK, at the time, the business importing substances from France to England had no registration obligations under EU REACH. Since January 2021, the organisation now has a registration requirement under UK REACH.
What chemicals does the REACH Regulation apply to?
UK REACH applies to all chemicals, whether they are hazardous or not. A chemical does not need to be a liquid – it may be a gas, a powder or even a solid. For example, rolls or sheets of copper or aluminium may be treated as chemicals if they are supplied as raw materials.
Mixtures are not registrable, but the individual substances within them are registrable if the organisation is making or importing those substances.
There are a number of types of substances which are entirely or partially exempt from the requirements in REACH, for example:
- radioactive substances
- human and veterinary medicines
- cosmetic products
- food and food additives
- various others including radioactive materials, polymers, biocides, substances used in research and development, and some naturally occurring materials such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas.
Articles are not registrable but substances within the article are registrable if they are designed to be released into the environment (e.g. a perfumed eraser).
What do I need to do to be compliant with REACH?
- If you are making or importing > 1 tonne of any chemical into Great Britain per annum, you will need to register it with the HSE (unless the substance is an exempt substance). N.b. If you buy your chemicals from a UK supplier, you are not an importer.
- If you are importing the substance from an EU supplier, and they registered the substance under EU REACH, you are a ‘downstream user’. You will still need to register the substance under UK REACH, but not immediately. Some preliminary information must be filed as soon as possible (under a process called ‘downstream user import notification’). There is detailed advice concerning the deadlines for registration here.
- If you are only mixing substances (i.e. not making or importing new chemicals), you do not need to do anything.
- If you had previously registered the substance under EU REACH, you can transfer the registration from the European Chemicals Agency to the HSE under a process called ‘grandfathering’.
- If you are making a registrable substance, or importing it from outside the EU, and it was not previously registered under EU REACH the substance needs to be registered under UK REACH immediately, and further manufacture/ import placed on hold until the registration is complete.
What if I or my supplier is based in Northern Ireland?
Despite UK REACH being called ‘UK’ REACH, it really only applies in Great Britain. EU REACH continues to apply to organisations based in Northern Ireland.
To protect the Northern Ireland market, there are much less stringent requirements for substances made in Northern Ireland and imported into GB. Some information about the substance may need to be filed with HSE but full registration is not usually required. (More information here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/reach/northern-ireland.htm)
What is Authorisation and Restriction?
The REACH Regulation also creates obligations which apply in relation to a limited number of listed substances known or suspected to be major health hazards, particularly carcinogens and mutagens. ‘Ordinary’ hazardous substances such as corrosives, flammables etc are not included in these lists. These requirements apply to users as well as manufacturers and importers.
Substances on this list must not be used after certain specified dates (‘sunset dates’) unless the user or their supplier has obtained authorisation from the HSE. (There is a process to transfer an authorisation under EU REACH to UK REACH).
Substances on this list have specified restrictions placed on the manner in which they are used (e.g. a restriction may specify that a paint or varnish may only consist of X% of the substance);
This list is substances which are being considered for inclusion in the Authorisation or Restriction lists.
This article only explains the REACH Regulation in summary. If you would like further information or advice about how REACH may apply to you, get in touch with our Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About The Author
Associate Environmental, Health and Safety Consultant
Jonathan has 19 years of experience in Health and Safety consultancy and 6 years in Environmental consultancy. His experience covers a range of sectors including general manufacturing and engineering, food manufacturing, chemical manufacturing (including several COMAH sites), pharmaceutical production, facilities and retail management, healthcare, and construction.
Jonathan has conducted 250+ audits, including legal compliance audits, due diligence audits, and management system gap analysis audits (against OHSAS 18001/ ISO 45001). He has also provided general health and safety consultancy such as advice on specific topics, development of policies and procedures etc and prior to 2015, he provided CDM Co-ordinator/ Planning Supervisor services Jonathan has written and maintained content for legal register services including the Legislation Update Service and RSK’s proprietary system.