REACH impact

By FIEC09 May 2008

The Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemical (REACH) legislation entered into force on June1 last year and is the most stringent legislation to date, covering the manufacture, import and placing on the market of substances used alone or in preparations and articles.

REACH is designed to streamline and improve European legislation on chemicals by replacing piecemeal laws that preceded it. Following its adoption only substances that are registered by the importer or manufacturer under REACH will be permitted for use in the EU.

Pre-registration of substances under the REACH will begin on June 1 this year. At this stage many in the construction industry are looking to understand how this complex and far-reaching regulation will affect them as downstream users of chemicals.

Although primarily the concern of the chemicals industry, it will have a bearing on construction companies, which are ‘downstream users' of chemicals and products made from chemicals. REACH should mean information is available to construction companies and workers on the risks associated with handling various materials.

New requirements

All substances produced a volume of one tonne per year or more will need to be registered. Information will need to be provided in the form of a technical dossier and a "Chemical Safety Report" (CSR) for substances made in quantities of ten tonnes per year or more. Such CSRs, previously known as "Chemical Data Sheets" should attach "Exposure Scenarios" including risk management measures addressing all identified uses.

Substances containing properties of very high concern (such as carcinogenic, mutative, reproductive (CMR) or persistent, bio-accumulative, toxic (PBT) substances must be authorised. The burden of proof will be on the manufacturer to demonstrate that the risks are adequately controlled.

Information concerning substances and how to mitigate risks involved with their use is henceforth required to be passed both down and up the supply chain. This means downstream users will be required to draw up CSR's in some circumstances.

The distinction between ‘new' and ‘existing' substances is scrapped and replaced with ‘non phase in' and ‘phase in' substances depending on whether they existed on the market prior to REACH entering into force. ‘Phase in' substances are essentially those that are listed on the European Inventory of Existing Chemical Substances (EINICS). Most substances used in construction products are included in EINICS and therefore qualify for pre-registration under REACH.

Construction impact

Both construction product manufacturers and professional users of such products are downstream users. However, there are three basic distinctions to be made. The first group is producers of construction products such as concrete and sealants, which use preparations in the process of making their products. Interpretive documents refer to these groups as "formulators." The second group is the suppliers of those products and finally there are the "end users" - professional users who incorporate products in construction works.

Under REACH such users of substances (whether alone or in preparations) are required to pass on and request information on the risks associated with specific intended uses of the product.

As downstream users, construction companies will need to ensure the intended uses of their products are covered in the Exposure Scenario attached to the CSR. If a use is not covered, it is a company's responsibility to inform its supplier and request one be included. Failing this, the company may need to draw up its own CSR. For some substances, usage may be subject to certain conditions granted in authorisation further up the supply chain.

In addition, downstream users are required to inform suppliers of any new information on hazards or flaws in the risk management measures provided in the Exposure Scenarios.

FIEC initiatives

FIEC has been in favour of this legislation from the outset. Construction companies have often been given insufficient information about the contents of the substances they were handling, both from the point of view of the internal environment of buildings as well as from that of health and safety. Many construction workers have suffered ill-health and even death as a result of exposure to substances - asbestos for example.

One of FIEC's main priorities has been to ensure that construction companies and their operatives have the information they need and are made aware of the risks involved with handling potentially hazardous chemicals.

Now that the legislation has entered into force, FIEC and European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), the European construction industry's social partners, are involved in its implementation through participation in the forthcoming Information System on Chemical Products used in the Construction Industry (ICPCI) project. Using the CSR as a starting point, this project will provide clear information on substance content and risk management measures in clear, simple language.

A final decision on initial funding under the Social Dialogue budget line is pending. Another initiative in this field is the "ChemXchange" project which has secured funding from the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) for research. This project is specifically aimed at small & medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and seeks to facilitate the exchange of information up and down the supply chain, as is called for in the legislation.

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