KANBrief 1/14

20 years of KAN: a successful project and a model for others

"Member States shall take the appropriate measures to enable the social partners to have an influence at national level on the process of preparing and monitoring the harmonised standards." Since 1989, this requirement has been formulated in the European Machinery Directive: one of the reasons, indeed arguably the reason for the formation of KAN on 11 February 1994. Karl-Josef Thielen, Director of the KAN Secretariat, spoke with representatives of the KAN stakeholders about the significance and role of KAN.

In your view, how have the tasks of KAN changed?

Breutmann (Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA)): In the early days, the task was that of launching a great number of work items that supported the Machinery and PPE Directives. The storm of tasks has now subsided. However, technical developments in products continually raise new questions regarding their safety. The task of standardization is therefore never finished, and continues to require the close involvement of OSH experts.

Fritsche (German metalworkers' union (IG Metall)): One new aspect is the relevance of preliminary standardization products, such as DIN SPECs. These are increasingly acquiring a life of their own beyond the boundaries of standardization, and very quickly find their way into companies. State regulations and those of the accident insurance institutions still take priority, however. KAN has an important surveillance function in this area. With the guarantee that all stakeholders in OSH-related standardization are represented within KAN, equal observance of their interests is assured.

Dr. Eichendorf (German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV)): "Soft" topics are now increasingly finding their way into standardization. These topics are more complex, and their relevance to occupational safety and health is not always immediately apparent. Since health at work will become more and more differentiated, however, a lucrative area of standardization is arising here. KAN must ensure that a high level of consensus remains a quality criterion.

Koll (German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS)): We are currently revising the role of standardization in the area of the health and safety of workers at work. KAN will acquire a growing "watchdog" function in this area, both the breadth and depth of which present something of a challenge.

Dr. Hövel (German Institute for Standardization (DIN)): Property specifications have been migrated successfully from the national technical rules to EN and ISO standards. DIN hopes that a similarly proactive arrangement will be adopted with regard to the national provisions governing workers at work. Only where harmonized national safety provisions governing workers at work – using standardized work equipment – are imposed does a level playing-field exist for employees in global markets.

What is KAN's role outside Germany?

Breutmann: In the German economy, which is strongly export-oriented and is geared to the European and global markets, there are strong calls for only one standard to be complied with everywhere. The OSH philosophies however differ widely. It is therefore important for KAN to explain its chosen strategy as often as necessary.

Fritsche: Standardization and occupational safety and health have a different status in the new Member States of the EU. Sadly, no opinion- forming body comparable to KAN exists outside Germany; what we need is a "European KAN".

Koll: KAN is the "voice of occupational safety and health", both in Germany and in Europe. In future, it will be important to ensure that occupational safety and health continues to be a category requiring consideration within European and international standardization activity.

What benefits does your institution gain from the KAN project?

Breutmann: To me, KAN is synonymous with participation. Participation by the experts in the field, who are very capable of assessing the safety issues associated with work equipment. The opinions of these experts should be given careful consideration. KAN ensures that this actually happens.

Fritsche: In my view, the original purpose of KAN when it was founded is still important. Employees have neither the financial resources to participate directly in standardization activity, nor are they released from their duties in order to do so. There is therefore quite simply no alternative to KAN by which we can identify and monitor errors in development in work items with an impact upon OSH.

Dr. Eichendorf: Beyond our own observation of the trends that we think we should address in prevention, KAN plays a crucial role for us. Its work enables us to identify issues that the accident insurance institutions are able to influence through standardization.

Koll: The process of opinion-forming among the stakeholders represented within KAN is invaluable for us, particularly in generic and often highly political issues.