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January 15, 2013

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Penalties for failing to comply with REACH not well-known

Britain’s manufacturers must get to grips with the European rules on the restriction or banning of certain hazardous substances, or face the prospect of unlimited fines or a custodial sentence if found to be in breach of the law.

The warning shot was delivered by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, following a survey that highlighted a strikingly low level of awareness about the consequences of non-compliance for manufacturers.

The EEF survey shows 20 per cent of companies still believe REACH is not applicable to them, while a further 30 per cent say it isn’t important to their business. For small businesses, just under a third of companies with turnover below £2m a year are unaware of how they will be affected.

Even where smaller companies are aware of REACH, half are not monitoring developments. This compares with 72 per cent of large companies and 83 per cent of medium-sized firms that say they are keeping up with the changes.

The findings support long-standing fears that companies have failed to recognise the full scope and significance of the REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) Regulation in relation to their own use of certain substances, and that there is a misconception that it is limited to chemical companies.

In reality, says EEF, the Regulation is gradually restricting the use of hazardous chemicals in certain areas, or implementing widespread bans, including substances that have been commonly used in manufacturing processes for many years under controlled conditions.

This process, continues EEF, has major implications for all companies, in areas ranging from worker safety to controls on how substances are used, through to the potential need to modify processes and substitute restricted substances with other materials.

EEF wants the Government to do more to raise awareness of the implications of REACH for businesses. It is also calling for more user-friendly guidance and a clearer understanding of when the Commission is likely to give permission for continued use of banned substances.

Describing REACH as the ‘elephant in the room’, the manufacturing organisation’s head of climate and environment, Gareth Stace, said: “For many companies, there is the very real risk of lost business if they are unable to advise their customers whether their products contain certain materials and where they are, and how their use is being monitored. Furthermore, if companies don’t plan for substance bans, it could prevent production entirely.”

He concluded: “When armed with the right information manufacturers are doing the right things – substituting substances that are of concern with safer alternatives. But we need to see government and European regulators and legislators do all they can to raise awareness and make it easier for companies to understand the implications of it on their business.”

The next major deadline for registration of chemicals is June 2013, which could result in certain substances being withdrawn from the market. Failure to comply with the REACH requirements is a criminal offence, with the possibility of unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.

For details about a substance-alert scheme, which can help companies monitor the risks to their business, go to eef.org.uk/REACH

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