Far-reaching consequences to be feared

LB – 11/2022

The European Commission has set itself an ambitious target in times of climate change. In the course of the "Green Deal", the EU is to become climate-neutral by 2050. In addition to various environmental protection initiatives, the so-called chemicals strategy for more sustainability was developed for this purpose: This is intended to more strongly promote safer, sustainable chemicals on the one hand, and to better protect people and the environment from hazardous chemicals on the other. In addition, the European Commission always has the strengthening of the European single market in mind.

The chemicals strategy addresses various European regulations. This includes the Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). It is currently being revised.

REACH Regulation: risk-based approach

The REACH regulation covers a wide range of chemicals from pesticides to polymers used in the manufacture of plastics. It may also include cleaning agents. The REACH regulation currently provides consumers with extremely strict protection against hazardous substances, and rightly so. Different rules apply to employees from service and manufacturing sectors who work with chemical substances, for example: here, a risk-based approach has proven successful.

The hazard of a substance is considered in the course of a risk assessment with the possible exposure and the resulting consequences. Based on the assessment result, risk management measures are then taken and people in the workplace are protected accordingly. This makes it possible to work safely with chemicals in the workplace.

Different regulations for employees from service and manufacturing sectors

Even if the European Commission's sustainable goal is to be welcomed in principle, the devil is in the detail here. For example, the chemicals strategy proposes to remove the risk-based approach for service sector employees. In future, they would be subject to the same strict regulations on the protection against chemicals as consumers. In contrast, the level of protection for manufacturing sector employees is to be maintained.

Far-reaching consequences for companies

The different regulations for employees from manufacturing and service sectors would have far-reaching effects; service sector employees would no longer be allowed to work with potentially carcinogenic or other substances of similar risk. This would have fatal consequences, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.

In the health sector, for example, it is common practice to disinfect surfaces with cleaning agents containing formaldehyde and to sterilise medical instruments or infusion tubes with ethylene oxide. Both substances are classified as carcinogenic and are subject to risk management specifications (maximum allowable concentration or work in closed systems) that make safe working possible. According to the chemicals strategy, these two substances would no longer be allowed to be used by service sector employees.

In October 2022, the German Social Insurance took a stand on this in an statement and presented recommendations to the policy-makers.


While the revision of REACH regulation was originally scheduled for completion by 2022, the new regulations may not be implemented until 2023. The recently presented work programme of the European Commission for 2023 also points in this direction.