Society increasingly needs to balance the potential risks posed by exposure to chemicals against the benefits provided from their use. This can be highly contentious because different segments of society hold different and often irreconcilable views on the acceptability of risks and the value of apparent benefits. Socio-economic analysis (SEA) seeks to quantify as far as possible the social, economic and human health costs and benefits of regulatory intervention so that rational, transparent and consistent decisions can be made.

Socio-economic analysis is an important process under REACH during both Authorisation and Restriction. Within REACH, socio-economic analysis seeks to answer the question ‘Is society better or worse off by allowing a particular use of a chemical?’ In addition to REACH, regulatory authorities in other areas of chemical management have also recently realised that formal approaches to SEA are essential to avoid inconsistent decision making, such as when authorising medicines.

A pre-requisite to undertaking SEA is often an “Analysis of Alternatives”, where the technical and economic feasibility of potential alternative substances or technologies is considered. In addition to the usual information required for chemical risk assessment, a socio-economic analysis often requires information on supply chains, markets and sales data; as well as information from an “analysis of alternatives”.

The development of a socio-economic analysis need not be overly complex or expensive. A “scoping” SEA will often provide useful insights into the socio-economic consequences of a particular chemical management decision with minimal effort. This assessment can then be refined in an iterative manner if necessary. Consideration of the intended audience for the SEA is also critical.

Working collaboratively with specialist partner consultancies, such as eftec (economics for the environment consultancy) and EMRC (Ecometrics Research and Consulting), we have helped government and commercial clients to develop methods for performing SEAs for chemicals and undertaken several socio-economic assessments, including the development of analysis of alternatives, for substances which may be subject to Authorisation under REACH.

We recently developed “roadmap” guidance for undertaking SEA under REACH for the nickel industry.

For further information on our services, please call +44(0)1367 24602.

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