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Helping retailers to understand their REACH obligations
Retailers have a legal obligation under the European chemical legislation.
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During the development of the European ‘Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals’ regulation (REACH), the scope was expanded to address concerns raised by the chemical industry over the use of harmful chemicals in the production of goods which were destined for the European market, but produced outside the borders of the EU. This expansion of scope addressed the concerns about the impact on the European chemical industry, but resulted in a much larger number of organisations which then had responsibilities as part of the regulation.
Retailers should have a mechanism to ensure that the products they place on the market meet with all the requirements of applicable legislation. For REACH, this will mean that the substances listed under Annex XVII restrictions should not be present in relevant materials (see the article ‘REACH – Annex XVII restrictions’).
How retailers ensure that products meet Annex XVII will depend on where they are sourcing from, the complexity of their products, how rigorous the information available from the supplier is and its reliability (for example, if test reports are included).
Even if a supplier has its own testing regime, it is recommended that retailers also develop a compliance programme based on the random selection of samples for assessment against the requirements of Annex XVII. It is worth noting that unlike many safety issues raised by physical performance of a product, harmful chemicals will not always be obvious. Therefore, the consequences may not be known for a significant period of time after any exposure has occurred.
The REACH candidate list deals with a category of chemicals referred to as ‘Substances of Very High Concern’ (also explained in the article ‘REACH – Substances of Very High Concern’ ). While these substances are not explicitly banned, there is a requirement to provide information within the supply chain on their presence. This requirement extends to the retailer who sells the product to the public.
Responding in 45 days – meeting the challenge
The REACH requirement for retailers to be able to respond to members of the public about the potential presence of the SVHC chemicals can present a particular challenge – for both small and large retailers.
If an SVHC chemical is present in a product above the 0.1 per cent threshold, the retailer should be able to provide this information within a 45-day time window from the time the request is made.
Although most customers are not aware that they have the right to demand this information, some campaigning groups are conscious of this fact and can prime their supporters to begin to make these requests. Some consumer groups have gone further – and actually analysed products that they have purchased – so they are aware of the presence of the SVHCs before they ask the question of the retailer.
Questions that retailers should ask themselves, in order to gauge their ability to respond in an appropriate fashion include the following:
- who might receive the request? This can be made in person, by email, telephone or letter, and can come into an individual store or to a central customer service function. Because such requests can be received by any member of staff, it is important that the appropriate level of training is given, to allow all staff to respond correctly
- who is authorised to respond to the request? It is always good practice to acknowledge the request, as this will allow customers to be directed toward the correct department, should they wish to follow up on their request. The actual final technical answer will probably require input from a number of different departments, including the quality or technical teams, the buying team (members of which may have pertinent information from the supplier) and the legal team – to ensure the answer is within the company policy
- who should hold the information? In order to respond correctly, the information should be readily available to the team responding to the request. Of course, the information needs to be kept up-to-date and any old information removed. This function could be the responsibility of the technical or quality teams, the legal department or the buying teams. However, everyone in the response chain should know how to access it.
- if required, how quickly can testing be carried out? If information about SVHCs in a particular product is unavailable and there are concerns, it may be essential to confirm the presence or absence of certain SVHCs by carrying out selected targeted testing.
When responding to customers, it should be remembered that it is not an offence under REACH to supply products which contain SVHCs, but it is an offence to fail to provide accurate information to a customer in response to such a request.
SATRA can help by providing retailers with analytical services to determine whether their products contain any Annex XVII or SVHC substances, as well as offering consultancy to determine where risks might be associated with products.
SATRA has also developed training which can enable customer service teams to understand the requirements of REACH, and thereby deal with any enquiries in an efficient and timely manner as the regulation requires.
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