man in lab with chemicals

Brexit and UK REACH - what happens now?

Julian Hought Director UK Process Industries Sector
Julian Hought

Julian  is a chartered engineer with over 28 years’ experience in the chemical industry. He has an established track record covering research and management of engineering and regulatory compliance functions on high hazard manufacturing sites. Much of his experience spans safety in design, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance, modification and decommissioning of process plant within the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil & gas, energy and general manufacturing industries.

With the end of the Brexit transition period fast approaching, the UK chemical industry is preparing to navigate the new regulatory landscape, most notably regarding the UK REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations taking effect from 1st January 2021. The implementation of UK REACH will impact several industries and sectors, not only UK businesses supplying chemical products to, or importing chemical products from, the European Economic Area (EEA), but also for those doing business in the UK.

The chemical sector produces around £50 billion worth of exports annually, and 60% of this goes directly to the European Union [1]. 75% of our chemical imports also come from the EU [1], making Brexit a critical time for a sector that is already facing pressure to be more competitive against high growth markets across the world and rising costs.

From 1st January 2021, the safety registrations of chemicals that are currently held in the REACH database run by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will need to be re-registered with the UK equivalent system managed by the HSE, effectively duplicating the ECHA system. Details of the day-to-day functioning of the new system are not yet available, however it is feared that the effects of this new system will be felt right at the bottom line of UK business. The need to get access to full supporting data necessary to support UK REACH registrations would create significant costs including fees for new commercial data sharing agreements, administrative costs and costs for further testing if data cannot be shared.

At its outset, the UK REACH regime will be closely aligned to the EU regime upon which it is based and rules on recognition and a grandfathering process for existing registrations should help ease the initial burden. However, going forward there is the possibility of regulatory divergence between the two, as future changes to EU REACH including, for example, updates to the substance restriction and authorisation lists, would not automatically be mirrored in the UK version.

What should UK businesses be doing right now?

The Government’s “UK’s New Start” campaign urges business to ‘Check, Change, Go’. To help prepare for the imminent changes there are a few things that UK businesses can do to help make the transition as smooth as possible:

  • Establish how the business is going to be impacted under the UK REACH regulations and implement any necessary actions
  • Prepare an up to date inventory of substances supplied in the UK and the rest of the EU if appropriate
  • Determine the supply level in the UK/EU separately and determine which substances will require registration in either or both systems

In the meantime, with negotiations between the UK and EU still taking place, there is the potential that changes will still be made regarding the future of trading. Those in the chemical industry should continue to monitor future updates and act accordingly.

If you’re worried about the impact of Brexit on your operations, get in touch with us.