KANBrief 1/14

The 20th anniversary of KAN's Employees' Liaison Office:

When it was founded 20 years ago, KAN itself was unique: a body dedicated to increasing the influence of the social partners, whose representation in standardization work had traditionally been weak. To support the objective, employers and employees were given liaison offices within the KAN Secretariat. Since then, the employees' liaison office has been a contact point for trade unions and employees – one with a particular focus upon "occupational safety and health and standardization".

One of the first issues raised with KAN by the trade unions concerned accidents involving refuse collection vehicles. An important step was taken at that time to include a provision in the relevant standard (EN 1501-1 Refuse collection vehicles – General requirements and safety requirements – Part 1: Rear loaded refuse collection vehicles) preventing a refuse collection vehicle from travelling forwards at more than 30 km/h and in reverse at all if a refuse collection worker was standing on the rear footboard. The provision did not however prevent weight sensors alone being used to determine whether anyone was standing on the footboard. The weight sensors can easily be defeated, for example by the insertion of wedges beneath them.

Leveraging experience within the standardization process

In projects conducted with the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), the employees' liaison office adopted an approach that proved very effective in identifying employees' interests: operators of telescopic loaders, fork-lift trucks and combine harvesters were regarded as experts on "their" machines and consulted directly in order for their experience to be exploited for proposed improvements. This method is costly and time-consuming but indispensable, since many standards committees are not aware of how effective the products are in practice (See the examples of fork-lift trucks (KANBrief 1/05) and telescopic loaders (KANBrief 3/08)).

Your country needs ... new standards

One standards project that was successfully launched concerned baling presses. An employee had died in a waste-paper press whilst attempting to kick a paper blockage clear, owing to the absence of an emergency-stop facility – and the absence of a standard in which relevant safety requirements could have been stipulated. In response, KAN drew up a draft of a standard in conjunction with the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the trade and distribution industry (BGHW) and with British and French OSH experts, and submitted it to CEN. The efforts bore fruit: following five years of discussion, the standard governing baling presses (EN 16252 Horizontal baling presses) was published in 2011.

The example of construction machinery illustrates the difficulty of having employees' interests considered in the standardization process. Having taken up an initiative of the German trade union in the construction sector (IG BAU) and petitions submitted to the German and European parliaments, KAN is lobbying for equipment such as CCTV systems providing drivers with adequate visibility around the perimeter of their machines to be included as a requirement in the standard governing construction machinery (EN 474-1 Earth-moving machinery – Safety – Part 1: General requirements). To date, inclusion of such a requirement in the standard has been blocked on economic grounds by other stakeholders – despite numerous fatal accidents.

Wherein lies the problem? Virtually no progress has been made over the years in overcoming the structural barriers presented to interest groups by the standardization system.

• In principle, participation in standardization work is also open to employees. However, it involves high costs. For stakeholders who derive no economic benefit from the standards but who represent public interests, participation in standards development should be free of charge, and ideally publicly subsidized.
• The accessibility of the documents has been facilitated by at least draft standards being available free of charge at DIN. That the final standards still have to be purchased is acceptable however only where they serve the commercial interests of the private sector; it is not acceptable in the case of standards commissioned by public bodies and financed from the public purse. Standards pursuing objectives of public policy and supporting statutory requirements should, like the legislation itself, be readily accessible free of charge.

The call by the trade unions for the system of standardization to be democratized thus remains topical, particularly at European level. The trade unions call for special arrangements for minority stakeholders in voting processes at European level, as already exist for DIN standards, in order to prevent public concerns from being outvoted in harmonized standards by privatesector interests. And where occupational safety and health is addressed in standards, those ultimately affected, namely the employees, must be guaranteed preferential opportunities for participation, including at European level.

Ulrich Bamberg

Ulrich Bamberg has headed the employees’ liaison office at the KAN Secretariat since 1994. He will retire at the end of April 2014.