Dutch survey finds SMEs struggling with awareness, cost of REACH.

A recent Dutch survey found that the costs of implementing REACH are much higher for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) than previously thought and awareness among SMEs is lower than expected. The survey findings highlight just some of the major issues facing SMEs subject to REACH.

The Dutch survey, which is believed to be the largest national assessment yet of impacts of the Regulation on SMEs, interviewed 1,143 Dutch SMEs by telephone. The companies were selected on the basis of research that indicated they would be affected by REACH. The survey produced the following results:

  • Less than 30% of the companies had knowledge that REACH existed.
  • The cost of complying with the Regulation for SMEs was estimated to be €425m in 2012.  Jan Wijmenga, of the Dutch Ministry of Infrasture and Environment, said that the costs are much higher than originally expected, considering the estimate by the European Commission (“the Commission”) that REACH would cost companies €10 billion to implement in total, until 2018.
  • The cost of access to data is cited as the highest contribution to REACH expenses; however, this element is largely outside the remit of national member states and ECHA.

Although the survey was conducted for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, Mr. Wijmenga said that the survey would also be of interest to the Commission and ECHA. The survey highlighted certain priorities for REACH, such as developing simpler, easy-to-read guidance to the Regulation, clear information on how Substance Information Exchange Fora (SIEF) work, digitalization of safety data sheets, and greater consistency between REACH and other EU legislation. These priorities can be added to the list of the issues that have received attention since the end of the REACH registration deadline for tier two pre-registered, phase-in substances (100-1,000 tonnes) on May 31, 2013. Some of the major issues include:

  • The high cost of submitting dossiers, even for low tonnage bands. Much of the cost is due to laboratory studies (although some of this cost can be reduced by participating in SIEFs).
  • The practical problems SMEs face when participating in SIEFs, including the cost of letters of access, transparency, and the powers of lead registrants.
  • The number of companies falsely declaring themselves to be SMEs (which allows them to pay lower registration fees). In 2012, 62% of companies who had registered as SME were unable to demonstrate eligibility; 56% were considered not to be SMEs.
  • The time frame in which SMEs must respond to public consultations on EU chemicals legislation, particularly SMEs’ need for more time to process the information, given their often limited resources.

In particular, the survey findings will help supplement the Commission’s ongoing investigation of the impact of REACH on SMEs. A REACH review addressed the subject in February 2013, and this summer, the Commission’s Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry (DG ENTR) put out a tender for technical assistance to further assess SMEs “in the context of socio-economic analysis under REACH.” The Commission also plans to hold a workshop on December 10-11, 2013, in Brussels, to further discuss the challenges faced by SMEs under REACH.