What is REACH?

A complex, far-reaching and constantly changing law that applies across the whole of the European Union, the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals regulation has been in force since 2007 and affects all UK businesses to some extent.

The purpose of the regulation is to ensure that dangerous chemicals are withdrawn and substituted with less damaging chemicals. To do this, all chemicals are being subjected to intensive reviews that identify all their properties, uses, risks and benefits, with all associated activities being overseen by the European Chemicals Agency.

Who does REACH affect?Image of chemicals in glass containers

All businesses use chemicals and so all businesses are affected. From the pens on your desk to the cleaning fluids in your kitchen and toilet facilities, chemicals are a part of everyday life. Most are relatively harmless and many businesses need do little more than know what chemicals are used in their business and ensure their staff use them correctly. For instance, you may not be aware that toner is a carcinogen and care must be taken if any is spilled during cartridge changeover for example.

However, those who make chemicals, or products that are mixes of chemicals or release chemicals, have special responsibilities to ensure that only the safest chemicals are used and that where there is no safe chemical, they have an authorisation to use the harmful chemical and that everyone who may come into contact with it is aware of the risks and knows how to deal with accidents or incidents.

How can we be sure we comply with REACH?

Firstly, you must understand what type of chemicals user (termed an ‘actor’ under the Regulations) you are. The information below gives an overview of user types, click on the user type to find out more about the obligations applying to that group.

Downstream users are those businesses who use products containing substances (individual chemicals) and this can include those who manufacture ‘articles’ – products that contain materials made of chemicals such as plastics; who ‘formulate’ chemical mixes, but don’t make new substances – for example paint mixers; people who sell raw chemicals or formulations that they ‘re-fill’ but haven’t produced – for example garden centres that decant paraffin oil from large drums to smaller sales containers.

Importers are those who bring chemicals into the EU customs area for the first time.

Only Representatives are specialist companies appointed by non-EU producers to manage their obligations within the EU.

Manufacturers are those companies who make chemicals.  For the most part, these companies already understand, and are complying with, their obligations.