Brexit: How will chemical management be affected?

SHP speaks to Mike Harris, COSHH Management System Operations Manager, and Sam Roberts, Senior Marketing Manager, at Alcumus Sypol to discuss the implications Brexit may have on chemical management and UK’s safety regulations.

When it comes to chemical management, there are currently three sets of regulations governing the use of hazardous substances, which the UK abides to:

  • Control of Substance Hazardous to Health (COSHH) (Risk assessment in UK governed by COSHH));
  • Classification, Labelling and Packaging for supply (CLP) (regulation controls chemical classification);
  • Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) (Safety data sheet and chemical restriction falls under REACH – this is a European regulation). Read the HSE’s guidance on regulating chemicals (REACH) and Brexit.

Being a British regulation, COSHH is unlikely to change and so shouldn’t be affected from a regulatory point of view should Britain leave the EU. However, there will be parts which tie into CLP and REACH, which may be affected, because they are both EU regulations.

CLP creates the basis for the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) and so there is likely to be little impact on the way chemicals are packaged and labelled. That’s because Britain, the EU, the USA, Australia and several other major western nations are currently compliant with the GHS, so have all moved to the pattern of chemical classification.

The GHS dictates that all of those compliant nations use the same set of hazard statements, which determine the hazardous nature of a chemical, and they also use the same label elements, so the symbols and pictograms are uniform from country to country.

“If we do leave the single market, a big onus will be on trading with other big Westernised nations, all of which are currently using CLP, so it would make absolutely no sense for us to move away from CLP,” said Mike Harris.

The Government has released statements around chemical management, in which it has as good as confirmed this, a confirmation statement is expected to officially announce this.

REACH is the set of regulations which is expected to be most affected and where potentially some side effects could be seen. “As well as identifying and regulating extremely hazardous chemicals, the REACH regulations also govern in the information which is contained within safety data sheets, which have to be supplied from the manufacturer to let identify what is in the product, what to do with it and how to control it.”

That is all defined within the European REACH regulations, so there is the potential for that to change if the UK no longer abides by those regulations.

What the Government has said is that the most likely course of action is that an identical set of regulations will be brought into British law to almost mirror the REACH regulations state. The HSE has issued the following Brexit chemicals industry guidance.

“This would make it fundamentally different, but from a practicality point of view it would be almost identical,” Mike added.

Any authorisation to use a restricted chemical, that has already been granted to British companies, would therefore stand and would gain automatic authorisation into the British REACH regulations.

Perhaps the bigger implication is that, for the time being, the HSE would handle all decisions when it comes to determining the classification of extremely hazardous chemicals, restricting their use and making sure they are only used for certain work processes within industry and that it is properly controlled and properly regulated.

This would mean that if the European REACH regulations identified a certain substance and placed it on to one of their annexes for restriction or for authorisation, the UK wouldn’t be obliged to follow suit.

But what does this mean for health and safety practitioners? Mike hopes that with the decisions being made by British HSE will lead to an even a higher level of communication.

Sam Roberts added: “Brexit has obviously been a completely chaotic affair from start to finish. And I think there’s a lot of concern from businesses that, even if the HSE publish guidance, it’s going to be down to the businesses to interpret the guidance.

“With COSHH management being one of the more technical areas of health and safety and risk compliance, there is probably going to be a lot of organisations that still require a certain level of expertise to be able to interpret it.

“That’s one of the key things we’re trying to address to our clients at the moment, is that basically we do that for them, so they don’t necessarily have to interpret or translate the legislation changes themselves.”

The advice from Alcumus is to act now, its concern is that many businesses are waiting to find out what is going to happen post-Brexit. But, as we’ve already outlined in this article, out of the three main sets of governing regulations for chemicals, the actual practical and management side of two of them is going to change very little.

Alcumus takes all the information that comes out of the government and closely monitors what’s coming out of the ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency, to ensure everything is kept completely up to date for its customers.

“The good thing about most of these things is they do come with a grace period, so there is time to adjust. So, we would, where we can, make the relevant changes and do what we can for the customer. We then take that information, and apply it practically to a chemical management system, and downstream that in a format that’s easily understood.”