Understanding REACh

REACH is a regulation of the European Union, adopted to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals, while enhancing the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry. It also promotes alternative methods for the hazard assessment of substances to reduce the number of tests on animals. 

In principle, REACH applies to all chemical substances; not only those used in industrial processes but also in our day-to-day lives, for example in cleaning products, paints as well as in articles such as clothes, furniture, and electrical appliances. Therefore, the regulation has an impact on most companies across the EU.

REACH places the burden of proof on companies. To comply with the regulation, companies must identify and manage the risks linked to the substances they manufacture and market in the EU. They must demonstrate to ECHA how the substance can be safely used, and they must communicate the risk management measures to the users.

If the risks cannot be managed, authorities can restrict the use of substances in different ways. In the long run, the most hazardous substances should be substituted with less dangerous ones.

REACh stands for RegistrationEvaluationAuthorisation and Reastriction of chemicals. It entered into force on 1 June 2007

How does REACh work?

REACH establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on the properties and hazards of substances.

Companies need to register their substances and to do this they need to work together with other companies who are registering the same substance.

ECHA receives and evaluates individual registrations for their compliance, and the EU Member States evaluate selected substances to clarify initial concerns for human health or for the environment. Authorities and ECHA's scientific committees assess whether the risks of substances can be managed.

Authorities can ban hazardous substances if their risks are unmanageable. They can also decide to restrict a use or make it subject to a prior authorisation.

REACH's effect on companies

REACh impacts on a wide range of companies across many sectors, even those who may not think of themselves as being involved with chemicals.

In general, under REACH you may have one of these roles:

Manufacturer: If you make chemicals, either to use yourself or to supply to other people (even if it is for export), then you will probably have some important responsibilities under REACH.

Importer: If you buy anything from outside the EU/EEA, you are likely to have some responsibilities under REACH. It may be individual chemicals, mixtures for onwards sale or finished products, like clothes, furniture, or plastic goods.

Downstream users: Most companies use chemicals, sometimes even without realising it, therefore you need to check your obligations if you handle any chemicals in your industrial or professional activity. You might have some responsibilities under REACH.

Companies established outside the EU: If you are a company established outside the EU, you are not bound by the obligations of REACH, even if you export their products into the customs territory of the European Union. The responsibility for fulfilling the requirements of REACH, such as registration lies with the importers established in the European Union, or with the only representative of a non-EU manufacturer established in the European Union.

UK REACh explained

Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the EU REACh Regulation was brought into UK law on 1 January 2021 and is known as UK REACh.

REACh, and related legislation, were replicated in the UK with the changes needed to make it operable in a domestic context. The REACh Statutory Instruments that made these changes can be found on legislation.gov.uk. The key principles of the EU REACh Regulation were retained in UK REACh.

The UK REACh and the EU REACh regulations operate independently from each other. You must ensure you comply with both regulations, where necessary.

UK REACh regulates chemicals placed on the market in GB.

Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, EU REACh continues to apply in Northern Ireland.

​​​​​​​Aims of UK REACh

The aims of UK REACh include:

  • provide a high level of protection of human health and the environment from the use of chemicals
  • make the people who place chemicals on the market (manufacturers and importers) responsible for understanding and managing the risks associated with their use
  • promote the use of alternative methods for the assessment of the hazardous properties of substances - for example quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSAR) and read across

Your duties under UK REACh

Your business must identify and manage the risks presented by substances you manufacture and place on the market in GB. You must be able to demonstrate how the substance can be used safely and you must communicate the risk management measures to the users.
You will need to consider your role in the supply chain in GB and how you use chemicals to determine what your obligations may be. Your previous role under EU REACh may have changed significantly under UK REACh so you should review your role(s) (previous GB downstream users under EU REACh may now be importers under UK REACh).

  • covers all sectors manufacturing, importing, distributing, or using chemicals as raw materials or finished products (not only the chemical industry)
  • applies regardless of your company size
  • makes you responsible for the safe use of the substances you place on the market or use
  • requires every actor in the supply chain to communicate information on the safe use of chemicals

Scope and exemptions

Generally, UK REACh applies to all individual chemical substances on their own, in mixtures or in Articles Some aspects of UK REACh only apply at one tonne per year or more. For more information go to our guidance on UK REACh Registration.
Some substances are specifically excluded:

  • Radioactive substances
  • Substances under customs supervision
  • The transport of substances
  • Non-isolated intermediates
  • Waste
  • Some naturally occurring low-hazard substances

Some substances, covered by more specific legislation, have tailored provisions under UK REACh, including:

  • Human and veterinary medicines
  • Food and foodstuff additives
  • Plant protection products and biocides
  • Isolated intermediates
  • Substances used for research and development

Source: UK REACh Explained (HSE.GOV.UK) & Understanding REACh - ECHA(europa)

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