Helsinki, Finland – Each year since it was established the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has held a Stakeholders’ Day. Andrew Cox describes the latest in the series of these one-day events – which bring together representatives of the chemical industry and other interested parties to discuss the milestones and important issues in the implementation of the REACH chemical regulatory system.
REACH [the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances] covers the registration of chemicals that are produced and traded in the European Union (EU) member states – plus chemicals substances that are imported into the EU.
The 9th Stakeholders’ Day was held on May 21 2014. It was the first time this event was held in the conference rooms of ECHA’s headquarters in central Helsinki.
The programme included a range of presentations which covered the key milestones of the REACH regulatory process; chemical substance evaluation and supply chain communications; plus risk management, chemical classification and labelling regulations.
A diverse audience of over 300 delegates attended the event – with representatives from the EU member states and several other countries. Several hundred other people watched the sessions in streamed web feeds.
The programme included several Q&A sessions. There some probing questions from the delegates and the online audience on the regulatory issues currently being faced by businesses and other groups.
During the day there were also one-to-one meetings between delegates and ECHA staff – which allowed detailed technical and regulatory discussions.
The opening speaker was Geert Dancet, ECHA’s executive director. In his opening remarks he stressed the commitment of ECHA to supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] in meeting the REACH regulatory process. Mr. Dancet noted that more documentation will be made available in the various official languages of the EU’s member states – in addition to English [which has been nicknamed as the “Lingua Franca” of ECHA].
The problems faced by SMEs were discussed by several other speakers throughout the day. Some of the EU member states have thousands of SMEs involved in the chemical sector who are being sucked into the Byzantine REACH regulatory system. As well as documentation and language challenges, it has become painfully apparent that many companies have struggled to obtain any additional funding to pay for the HR and regulatory burden created by REACH. Recent surveys have shown that some SMEs have no access to funding – making the costs of REACH very onerous. Action plans and programmes throughout the EU are trying to address this issue – including the provision of support from the European Enterprise Network.
Since its formation, ECHA and national trade bodies have stressed the importance of companies with similar products forming SIEFs [Substance Information Exchange Forums]. Comments during the Stakeholders’ Day indicated that the success of the SIEFs has been patchy. Sharing costs, including consultants, lawyers and other specialists, can often be problematic – and some disputes have occurred. Some delegates asked for more assistance from ECHA.
ECHA has carried out a detailed review of a 5% sample of the first chemical dossiers that were submitted by companies to meet REACH’s 2010 regulatory deadline. This survey showed that 69% of the dossiers were not fully compliant with the requirements. ECHA speakers therefore stressed that companies need to regularly review and update the contents of their dossiers. However, this is a complex process for some SIEFs when member companies are located in multiple EU member states.
Chemical industry spokesman, Fabio Stratta [technical director of Giusto Faravelli] outlined the key steps that companies should adopt in order to meet the forthcoming 2018 deadline. He stressed that team working was essential. Training key personnel to assist the company’s REACH manager in developing the necessary documentation and procedures is essential in a REACH compliance process.
Companies should create an informatics system – having an effective roadmap and set of internal procedures and strategies for REACH regulations and the registration process.
Finally, Mr. Stratta thought that dialogue with ECHA was extremely important to ensure regulatory compliance. This could include direct communication with ECHA as well as the use of trade associations and other national bodies – helping to reduce costs as well as improving communications.
After the Stakeholders’ Day had concluded, there were several post-mortems [in restaurants and bars] by delegates and media representatives. While many people thought that the event had been well-organized and worth attending – it was felt that future events should allow greater opportunities for Q&A and better air conditioning in the conference rooms. Another key conclusion was that REACH managers continued to be apologists for the agency’s shortcomings and the delays in the development of software and key systems required by companies to meet the regulatory deadlines.
The REACH process will continue for the rest of this decade – particularly as new categories of chemicals [including nano-substances, biocides, endocrine disruptors] will face growing EU regulatory requirements. So it is anticipated that Stakeholders’ Days and other related events will be taking place well into the future.
The speaker presentations and other relevant material from the 2014 Stakeholders’ Day can be found at: http://echa.europa.eu/view-article/-/journal_content/title/ninth-stakeholder-s-day
By Andrew W. Cox, Energy Intelligence & Marketing Research, firstname.lastname@example.org