Adapting to the EU’s REACH directive

how does it affect manufacturers of small arms and ammunition, and their customers?

The European Union has introduced a set of very wide-ranging regulations that have had a profound effect on all sectors of the economy that use potentially harmful substances, either as components or in their manufacturing process. That includes almost everything from chemical industries to agriculture. REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) aims to eliminate substances that create a hazard for the health and safety of workers during production, for anyone handling or using products, and for the environment.

Firstly, select substances to be eliminated in products and processes, then find alternatives, and develop, test and certify the modifications

REACH affects many of FN Herstal’s products, both ammunition (for example chemicals used to make the propellant) and weapons (chemicals such as chromium trioxide which is used for surface treatments). When manufacturers of small arms and ammunition propose both military and civilian products, they share many components and processes so they are equally affected.

For FN Herstal, and other manufacturers, this has created major challenges. Substances used in products or in production processes had to be evaluated based on potential hazards identified. If a substance needed to be eliminated and replaced with a more acceptable substance, development work was necessary, followed by complete testing and certification.

An example is the replacement of dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in propellant powder. This has been used to adjust the burning rate of powder. Modification of the powder can affect its burning rate, and therefore the pressures created, and the time/pressure curve. These are critical factors that influence the reliability and safety of the cartridge and the weapon. The effects on pressure of high and low temperature also have to be tested, as well as the effect of ageing. Such tests have been extensively performed by FN Herstal prior to introducing the new DBP-free propellant in the ammunition product range.

Finally, avoid negative impacts for the customer

FN Herstal is determined that any modifications will not have negative effects for the user. This is why our teams always work with the objective that reliability, safety and interoperability for weapons and ammunition must be as good as, or better than before. Part life of weapon components is also given great importance. The design work and thorough testing needed to achieve compliance with REACH, while also ensuring that customers have a reliable source of top-quality products, is a long process. It has been in progress for several years and will continue for some time into the future. REACH was introduced in 2007, and is being implemented step by step, substance by substance. The goal is to achieve compliance as soon as possible without making production in the EU impossible or uncompetitive.

One of the most visible results of this change to FN Herstal’s products is introduction of the FN AZURON® label for ammunition. Cartridges are labelled based on compliance of each of the three components that traditionally may contain hazardous substances: projectile (lead), propellant (DPB) and primer (lead styphnate and other heavy metals). Currently 90 percent of the ammunition range contains at least one component that has achieved some FN AZURON® level, and 17 percent of the ammunition range has progressed to a higher FN AZURON® level over the past three years. Some have all three components that meet the FN AZURON® requirements.

Compliance with REACH will be a long and complex process that requires considerable investment in time and money for FN Herstal in particular – and all firearms and ammunition manufacturers in general. However, for the user, it will be almost completely transparent, and will not require any compromises on the safety and reliability of the products. Each change will bring a considerable advantage for the health and safety of workers and/or users. The reduced impact on the environment will be beneficial for everyone, not only for the present generation, but also for generations to come.