Few regulations can have proved as challenging for the chemical industry over recent years than REACH, which has required companies to rethink the way they do safety.

The roots of REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) can be traced back to 13th February, 2001, when the European Commission adopted a White Paper setting out the strategy for a future Community Policy for Chemicals. The European Commission’s original legislative proposal on REACH was adopted on 29 October 2003 and two years later the European Parliament approved a final version. Having come into force in 2007, REACH aims to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. This is done by the four processes of REACH, namely the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. REACH also aims to enhance innovation and competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry.

The REACH Regulation places responsibility on industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. Manufacturers and importers are required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances, which will allow their safe handling, and to register the information in a central database in the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki. The Agency is the central point in the REACH system: it manages the databases necessary to operate the system, co-ordinates the in-depth evaluation of suspicious chemicals and is building up a public database in which consumers and professionals can find hazard information. The Regulation also calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals, referred to as ‘substances of very high concern’, when suitable alternatives have been identified.

One of the main reasons for developing and adopting the REACH Regulation was that a large number of substances had been manufactured and placed on the market in Europe for many years, sometimes in very high amounts, and yet there was insufficient information on the hazards that they pose to human health and the environment. Having entered into force in 2007, REACH provisions are being phased-in over eleven years with thinking now turning to the next phase of their adoption.