KAN Report 25
|Information on Occupational Health and Safety and Standardization for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Requirements and Availability, 05/2001, V. Eichener (169 KB)|
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To this report
The Commission for Occupational Health and Safety and Standardization (KAN) was founded in 1994 to assert German interests in OH&S matters, especially with regard to European standardization. KAN is composed of delegates of employers’ and employees’ representative bodies, the state (Federal and Regional governments), the Hauptverband der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften (HVBG, Federation of the Statutory Accident Insurance Institutions of the Industrial Sector) and the German Standards Institute (DIN). One of KAN’s tasks is to pool public interest in the field of occupational health and safety and to exert influence on current and future standardization projects by submitting comments on specific subjects.
KAN commissions studies and expert reports in order to analyze standardization issues relevant to occupational health and safety and to reveal deficiencies or erroneous developments in standardization activity. The present study was based upon the following task:
In the course of the realization of the Single European Market, product standards are gaining in importance. These standards support the contents of EC Directives which are intended for manufacturers and contain fundamental safety requirements usually formulated in general terms. In addition, the EC Treaty envisages an area in which minimum specifications are laid down for the safety and health of workers at work. Standardization is generally not desired in this area as it would hinder national efforts to make constant improvements to the safety and health of workers at work; nevertheless, measuring methods and strategies, for example, are also being specified in this area.
Regardless of size, every company wishing to sell its products in the Single European Market must find out about the standards which apply to its products, including those referring to occupational health and safety. Frequently, small and medium-sized enterprises cannot meet this requirement. It is possible that even the procurement of the relevant information and its processing are so expensive or complex that there are insufficient staff and financial resources available. It is, however, also conceivable that suitable sources for information on occupational health and safety standardization and the conditions for their use are not sufficiently well-known and therefore hardly used. Moreover, small and medium-sized enterprises play as good as no role in drawing up standards.
The study was conducted in two stages:
- The preliminary part of the study focussed on developing the questionnaire and preparing the survey.
- The main part of the study focussed on the survey proper, evaluation and reporting.
Both parts of the study were supported and managed by the same working group.
The objective of the study was to determine how much small and medium-sized businesses know about occupational health and safety standards, the importance attributed to such standards and the information required by these companies. The actual situation related to small and medium-sized enterprises and standardization was to be described, allowing the results to be used directly by KAN in its work. The following points were to be analyzed in detail:
- To what extent companies apply product standards that contain requirements regarding occupational safety and health in development and production as well as in the testing and labelling of products.
- How companies procure information about effective and applicable standards, knowledge about and making use of services offering the procurement of information, costs of procuring information and interpretation of the standards.
- Expectations and suggestions for future collection of information, procurement and handling of product standards including specifications related to safety.
- General information on the company, its market position and branch of industry, motivation, participation in the standardization process.
- Future points of concentration or tasks for the services offered by KAN.
KAN would like to thank the author for conducting the project and submitting the report as well as the following experts for accompanying the project with constructive criticism and helping with the evaluation of the work:
[For list of experts, see page 6]
The following summary of the study and recommendations were approved by KAN following KAN Meeting 2/00 by a written survey.
Summary of the Study"Information on Occupational Health and Safety and Standardization for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises – Requirements and Availability "
Large enterprises usually have the resources to set up separate departments responsible for compiling and interpreting the relevant national, European and international standards. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), on the other hand, frequently lack an inexpensive and easily accessible source for information on standards. This KAN Study was designed to determine what information small and medium-sized enterprises have or need about standards relevant to occupational health and safety as well as the importance attributed to such standardization by small and medium-sized enterprises.
In the first part of the study, a questionnaire was developed for the purpose of analysing how much SMEs know about standards relating to occupational health and safety. In the second part of the study, a written survey was conducted with 138 selected companies, which manufacture products and where standards relating to occupational health and safety are of considerable significance. The majority of the companies surveyed were active in the fields of electrical engineering/metal-working and mechanical engineering.
Reasons for applying standards
The small and medium-sized enterprises surveyed indicated that of the standards they used 57 % were European and 43 % were international standards, with the orientation towards international standards increasing with the size of the enterprise. Primarily the companies apply standards to fulfil the requirements by their quality-management system. Thirty-eight per cent of the companies work together frequently or continuously with a "notified body" which conducts conformity assessments and tests.
Obtaining information on standards
The majority of the companies (63 %) surveyed obtain information on standards directly from Beuth-Verlag, the publishing house of the German Standards Institute (DIN). Special centres for standards are contacted by less than 10 % of the companies. Fifty-eight per cent require the complete text of the standard and not just excerpts from it. Eighty-three per cent of the companies acquire the texts of the standards directly from Beuth-Verlag; in addition, the books published by DIN are also very popular. The contents of the standards used frequently meet the requirements of the companies. Eighty-eight per cent rate the comprehensibility and arrangement of the standards as good or very good.
Whereas it is not considered expensive or complex to obtain the standards, the majority of companies indicate that they do find it expensive or difficult to evaluate the applicability of the standards and to conduct external tests determining conformity to standards. Three-fourths of the companies would like to verify whether they actually fulfil all standards relevant for their manufacturing process.
Suggestions for improvement made by SMEs
Practically all small and medium-sized enterprises expect a service centre that helps them procure information on standards to provide up-to-date and precise information on applicable standards; more than 90 % would want the option of making an almost unlimited number of follow-up inquiries and low costs; and almost the same number of enterprises would like the information to be converted more to their needs. The enterprises surveyed indicated that as far as Beuth-Verlag was concerned they would like better search possibilities regarding the actual contents of standards (89 %), information about standards that have been withdrawn (83 %) and comments on the application of the standards (81 %). Associations, chambers and similar organizations should provide information on the interpretation of product-related standards for specific industries (80 %) and offer services in connection with obtaining information (77 %).
The standards themselves should be comprehensible and clearly arranged, contain clear requirements, instructions for implementing the standards and concrete technical solutions (instead of general protection goals), and they should repeat excerpts from other standards instead of merely referring to them. The demand for standards in electronic form is quite strong, since the texts could then simply be integrated in the product description and EDP is being used increasingly in the design work.
Forty per cent of the companies surveyed would be interested in participating in standardization work; however, at the present time, only 12 % are actively involved in this. There are considerable obstacles preventing SMEs from exerting a greater influence on standardization, especially the lack of free resources.
Recommendations of KAN
The responses of the surveyed small and medium-sized enterprises altogether provide a consistent picture:
The application of national, European and international standards is important to the enterprises surveyed. An essential reason for this are the requirements of the quality-management systems. Whereas the procurement and application of the standards pose comparably few problems, many SMEs find it difficult to determine which standards are relevant for them. Basically small and medium-sized enterprises need to obtain up-to-date information on standards relevant to their branch of business or field of technology, current standards-making processes and withdrawn standards. Practical suggestions for an improved flow of information should be developed against this background.
Actions to be taken by the German Standards Institute (DIN)
- DIN is requested to improve the search tools for online information retrieval, which would help small and medium-sized businesses to search for standards relating to certain products or services.
- DIN is requested to check whether free-of-charge online access to the scope or a short summary of the standards would be possible, so that small and medium-sized business would find it easier to determine the contents of standards.
- DIN is requested to determine how it could advertise its specific range of information for small and medium-sized enterprises more efficiently, if necessary with the support of industrial associations.
Industrial associations should point out the importance of occupational safety and health standards as well as the possibilities for obtaining information to their member companies. They could participate in establishing information networks that would make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to gain access to standards.
Actions to be taken by industrial associations
Actions to be taken by KAN
- The KAN Secretariat is requested to compile information on occupational health and safety standards adapted to the requirements of small and medium-sized companies, and to make this information available online through its homepage. This online offer is to be advertised through suitable multipliers.
- With the help of all those involved in occupational safety and health and standardization, a network of information providers is to be developed and implemented for small and medium-sized enterprises. The KAN Secretariat should coordinate and promote this development within the framework of the existing working group.