European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

EU legislation

The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation of CHemicals) Regulation came into force on 1 June 2007 throughout the European Union (EU). The new law has two main aims: to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment, partly by improving knowledge and information about chemicals; and to ensure the smooth functioning of the internal market and make the European chemical industry more competitive.

After close to a decade’s rancorous debate, REACH replaced over 40 old laws with a single streamlined regulation. The cornerstone of this reform is that it shifts the burden of proof from the Member States onto the industry. REACH says that manufacturers and importers must evaluate the risks of using chemicals, and must supply users with adequate safety information.

REACH regulates trade in and use of chemicals, but is buttressed by other EU laws purpose-designed to protect workers exposed to hazardous chemicals. Basically, these are the 1990 Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, and the 1998 Chemicals Directive. Both of these have been carried over into national law in the 27 EU countries, and require employers to do a risk assessment and to take the requisite preventive and protective measures.

The Chemicals Directive sets indicative occupational exposure limit values (IOELVs) for hundreds of chemicals. These limits are not legally binding on States, which can continue to set them according to their national rules and practices. In practice, however, many States are bringing in binding national exposure limits based on IOELVs.