ETUC welcomes the European Commission's new chemicals initiative: REACH

Brussels, 08/04/2004

The ETUC welcomes the European Commission proposal to reform EU legislation on chemicals: REACH

The draft REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) regulation is an important step forward in protecting workers, the public in general and the environment, from the potential dangers posed by some 30,000 chemical substances manufactured or imported into the European Union in quantities of one tonne or more each year.

The new system will place responsibility for proving that chemicals can be used safely not only on the producers but also on those who employ these potentially dangerous substances in industries such as building, woodworking, motor manufacture, textiles, agriculture and health care. The ETUC strongly supports this shifting of the burden of proof.

The ETUC believes the REACH proposal, adopted by the Commission in October 2003, is a significant contribution towards sustainable development, in line with EU polices agreed in Lisbon and Gothenburg, and notes its equally important aim of fostering innovation.

The ETUC welcomes the fact that the regulation will apply to all 25 EU member states as soon as it enters into force. It will replace some 40 existing Directives and apply to a wide range of sectors.

REACH should strengthen the efficiency of existing laws that protect workers from exposure to hazardous substances, by:

- Supplying missing information on their properties;
- Making safety data publicly available;
- Assuring distribution of information to downstream users;
- Encouraging the replacement of the most harmful substances.

Manufacturers and importers of all the chemicals concerned will have to register them, together with data about their properties and use, with a future European Chemicals Agency. The ETUC demands that workers should be represented in this agency, and stresses the need for ongoing social dialogue at European and national level, as the best way to promote workers' protection and training.

While welcoming the REACH initiative, the ETUC has raised a number of questions to consider with a view to improving the scheme. These include:

- Ensuring consistency between REACH and existing health and safety legislation;
- Responsibility for the safety of substances used in quantities of less than one tonne;
- Means of assessing the accuracy of information provided;
- Extending the authorisation scheme to a wider range of potentially harmful chemicals;
- Evaluating the impact on employment and health, with trade union participation in any future assessment.

A conference on REACH will be held at the end of this year with a participation of chemicals workers.