REACH Directive

Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH)


Originally issued in October 2003 by the European Commission it has since then become 'the most heavily lobbied dossier in Brussels history'. As proposed by the Commission, REACH would apply to all existing substances and these are defined as all those put on the market before 1981. It is estimated that it would apply to around 30 000 existing substances bringing them in line with requirements for new substances.

REACH would see all substances going through:

  • Registration process which would be controlled by the newly created European Chemicals Agency based in Helsinki, Finland. At registration, information about the substance and its producers and users would be submitted. It would be divided into three separate tonnage production bands and would commence three, six and 11 years respectively after the legislation comes into force.
  • Evaluation of the information, with some substances being tested further to assess their risks to human health and the environment.
  • Authorisation, where substances identified as being hazardous would need to be authorised for specific uses on the basis of the control of their risks or socio-economic justification of their use.

The REACH proposal is extensive and detailed and runs to in excess of 1000 pages. However there are some core issues that the CBI has been focussing its activities on and which BOSS will be monitoring on behalf of the office products industry.


Office products manufacturers and suppliers are generally deemed to be downstream users of chemicals - i.e. the chemicals are sourced from their manufacturer for use in making some product or are already in a component used to create the final product. However there are several issues that still deserve the industry's attention.


Authorisation is the mechanism by which REACH controls the use of hazardous substances.

The initial proposal made it clear that where the risks associated with using a substance are adequately controlled then an authorisation would be granted. Where adequate control cannot be demonstrated, authorisation can still be granted if socio-economic benefits associated with the use of that substance can be shown to outweigh the risks associated with it.

However as mentioned before this proposal has been subject to a lot of lobbying which has resulted in there being significant pressure to remove the ability to grant authorisation based on adequate control, and to place a greater emphasis on replacing substances that could be subject to authorisation with those that are not.

The problem this raises is that as those of you who work with chemicals are aware - a substance can be hazardous when used in one application but not in another and that there can be 'good chemicals' within an overall class of hazardous chemicals. Unfortunately this is not being seen by those responsible for drafting and passing this Directive despite continued and active lobbying by the Chemicals industry.

What does this mean for the OP industry?

If a substance that you currently use is deemed to require authorisation you could find that your chemical supplier substitutes it with something that may not do what you need it to. If substitution of authorised products becomes mandatory and in many cases it may not be technically feasible it could lead to significant increased costs in the supply chain for little benefit.

What should you do?

  • In conjunction with your chemicals supplier assess whether or not you use or produce during the production process any of the substances likely to require authorisation.
  • Identify if you have the information to demonstrate that substitution for a substance that does not need authorisation is not feasible and share this with your chemical supplier and encourage them to share this with their trade association so that it can be used to build up as much evidence against this in practice as possible
  • Assess whether the risk control measures that you currently use can be demonstrated to constitute adequate control.


REACH controls not only the substance itself but also substances in finished products (known as articles).

These are distinguished by whether or not the chemical is intended to be released from the article during general use. Those where a release is intended (such as ink from a pen) are required to be registered, whilst those where there is an unintended release (such as dye leaching out when a fabric is washed) require a simple notification to be completed.

What does this mean for the OP industry? Obviously writing instrument manufacturers will need to register the inks that they use as will rubber stamp manufacturers. Currently it is understood that the registration will be directly with the European Chemical Agency and not through a national body.

There is also an additional point to consider. Concern has been expressed over the ability of REACH to control substances in imported articles. If this is not done, then EU-based manufacturers will be placed at a significant disadvantage to their many non-EU based competitors who do not have to use substances that have been through REACH.

What should you do?

Conduct an audit to establish which substances you use to produce articles and what information you currently have about them.

(Source: CBI Environment Brief, 'REACH: progress report on the EU's new chemicals policy' February 2006)

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