IHS Chemical Week


Reach: Is Big Brother Watching You?

9:07 AM MDT | May 21, 2009 | By LISA ALLEN

The recent news that the Reach-IT portal can be accessed by the Reach Competent Authorities (who have implemented ECHA’s strict security measures) will doubtless raise concerns that this is yet another sign our world is ever more becoming subject to the watchful eye of ‘Big Brother’.

Everyday we see security cameras in shops and offices, CCTV on the streets of our towns and cities, ID cards being introduced around the world, and notices on public transport warning that we are under surveillance.  Debate continues about whether these security measures simply invade our privacy or really make our environment a safer place.


But, looking to the world of chemicals, should we be concerned that the Reach authorities might be looking at what’s going on inside Reach-IT?


On the ReachReady Helpdesk I hear from so many companies that are worried about the enforcement of Reach.  Reach gives the authorities considerable powers: they can enter premises, examine documents, take samples and prohibit activity.  If that’s not enough to think about, the UK’s regulation on enforcement spells out very clearly the daunting 2-year prison terms and unlimited fines the UK’s Reach authorities are able to hand down – no wonder at those companies’ concerns.


Whilst the enforcement legislation in each Member State is a necessary legal framework to ensure Reach is obeyed, I believe much of the earlier pressure and widespread action will come from the supply chain.  Statutory instruments focus on individual offenders, but it is the pressure from customers and competitors that will target the industry at large.


We are already seeing that customers are asking their suppliers, often as part of formal audits, for assurance that they will be “Reach compliant” in time.  In my opinion, supply routes will change voluntarily under Reach, and not through legal enforcement of the regulation alone.


For many chemicals’ suppliers, the risk of damage to their reputation through non-compliance is as much an incitement for getting things right as action from the Competent Authorities.


So the regulators may be watching you.  However, my advice is to concentrate on making sure you do the right thing and can justify your decisions and actions if questioned – by your customers or the authorities.  I worry less about what the Competent Authorities may or may not see in Reach-IT, and concern myself more that companies are working towards making the use of chemicals safer. After all, that’s what Reach is about…



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