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Communication: Do You Speak My Language?

by Paige Marie Morse
November 29, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 48

Native language communication has complicated implementation of the European Union regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization & Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH). Although English is rapidly becoming the primary language of business at major companies, English fluency is much less common in Eastern European countries and in smaller firms throughout Europe. The European Chemicals Agency (EHCA), the group charged with enforcing REACH, has responded by preparing much of the required documentation in 22 languages.

Currently more than 4,000 pages are available in print and online in all of the 22 languages to assist users in interpreting the regulation and filing registrations. Available multilingual documents include user manuals, guidance documents, news alerts, and webinar slides for user training.

Additionally, chemical associations in each EU country interpret user questions and help smaller companies understand, and then comply with, the regulation.

One challenge is that the primary interaction and discussion platform for REACH, the Substance Information Exchange Forum (SIEF), exists only in English. These discussion forums are run by the companies involved in the registration of each chemical, not ECHA, although ECHA provides the online network for the dialogue.

“The SIEF tool is only in English because companies use it to communicate and agree on many complicated scientific steps,” notes Geert Dancet, executive director of ECHA. “If they do not have a common language between them, it creates more confusion.”


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