KANBrief 4/21

New strategies for new challenges

Dr Dirk Watermann has been Head of the KAN Secretariat and Director of KAN since 2014. In this interview, he provides an insight into KAN’s current and future areas of activity before he retires at the end of 2021.

A year after you joined KAN, you told us in an interview in the KANBrief that the preceding twelve months had been “interesting, exciting and challenging”. What would you conclude now, almost eight years on?

I’d repeat what I said then, and would add: “extremely successful”. Not a day has passed that I would describe as being boring, much less “routine”. That’s certainly due to the numerous new topics, the development goals adopted by KAN for its future strategy and its new formats for participation and information. But it’s also a result of my own ambition to prepare the KAN Secretariat for the years ahead of us.

That certainly does sound ambi­tious. What developments prompted you to initiate changes to prepare KAN for the future?

The environment in which KAN operates is changing at an ever greater pace. Standardization is becoming more and more international, and global developments are increasingly shaping the debates. Emerging and developing countries are particularly relevant in this context. I think that we illustrated this well with reference to the example of China in the 2/2021 issue of the KANBrief.

The topics addressed by KAN have long ceased to be limited to machines and other products and are now increasingly extending to the safety and health of workers at work, the structuring and organization of services and companies, and even the regulatory sovereignty of nation states.

A further aspect is that in its policy, the EU has begun taking an interest in standardizing services across borders. An objective is now for service providers to deliver the same quality to customers throughout Europe – whether for maintenance services in industry or cosmetic services in the local beauty salon. However, experience has shown that the standards bodies are not shy of formulating specifications for safe working, the handling and storage of hazardous substances, health and hygiene requirements, the use of personal protective equipment, and first aid measures.

Digital transformation is the current buzzword. Is this also an issue for KAN?

Certainly! The digital transformation is now one of the driving developments in the standardization sector. And by that, I don’t mean converting paper-based standards into PDF files. No: we’re talking about machine-readable standards whose content is transmitted to production plants, machinery and equipment, ideally via WLAN during running operation.

So we can say that KAN’s environment is more dynamic than ever before. Are the development goals adopted by KAN, and which you mentioned, the right response to these challenges?

KAN has considerable potential as a forum and has steadily expanded, strengthened and exploited that potential with great success in recent years. It has a mediating function between the stakeholders. By that I don’t just mean the stakeholders in occupational safety and health, but also researchers, consumers, planners, designers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, IT experts, ethicists and many others. But there is also a need for suitable forums in which the various players in the field of secondary regulation can pool information and explore common positions. The new topics are making this increasingly complex. We are currently expanding our base of experts, especially with regard to the new topics, and bringing them together as needed.

Involving users in processes is an area in which there is still much work to be done. Progress is being made here, but it is crucial that it be developed further: for example by means of workshops and by closer contact with chambers of industry, commerce and the skilled trades and with interest groups, and flanked by publications both in traditional and, in particular, social media.

What specific measures have you taken to address this issue?

For example using professional knowledge management. We must share the knowledge available to us with others. We must consider who wants to know what, in what depth and in what language; in what form we make knowledge available; and how we can keep knowledge up to date. We must communicate very clearly what is currently happening in standardization; what changes sectors, companies and also individuals can expect in the near future; what effects these decisions may have; and how I, as an affected person, an expert or merely an interested party, can get involved in the standardization process and in decision-making.

We are also particularly active on the subject of Europe. The fact is that regulatory sovereignty with respect to the social pillars – which include occupational safety and health – is increasingly shifting to the European level. This makes it more and more important to bring national opinion, our expertise, to bear at the earliest possible stage and to advocate for a high level of protection. We have laid a foundation for this by setting up KAN’s European representation in Brussels. In the coming years, we must and will make greater use of this potential and build on what we have already achieved in the area of the Machinery, AI and Construction Products Regulations. We must also become more visible in other subject areas and present KAN’s positions with a high level of technical expertise in the European Parliament, to the European Commission and among European interest groups.

It’s fair to say that major mile­stones have already been reached. Where do you see the greatest challenges and areas of activity for KAN in the near future?

With the breadth of its stakeholders, KAN certainly has potential to expand its presence further and direct the spotlight on issues more actively. A cohesive body of occupational safety and health regulations is essential, and standardization can also add significant value in some areas in this context.

In order to have a serious prospect of influencing technological and social change in the interests of occupational safety and health, KAN must identify these issues at an early stage and adopt an appropriate position. To this end, we have modified the structures of the KAN Secretariat. These structures must now become robust.

For the same reasons, we should maintain our strategy in the area of public information and make more extensive use of moving image formats, increase our appeal to Generation Z, and become more involved at institutes of higher education and also in chambers of industry and commerce and skilled crafts.

We need to address affected groups of people in a way they can understand. We must raise awareness for the problems and challenges, highlight possible impacts, call for active participation in standardization, and promote and encourage participation in discussion from the perspective of those affected.

With regard to technical topics, artificial intelligence will have some impact upon every aspect of human life in the coming years. These are topics that I have in mind right now, without wishing to rank them in any order of importance.

You are now being succeeded by Angela Janowitz. What can she expect?

A very committed body of KAN members; a board of directors who are fully committed to KAN’s values; an extremely highly motivated and qualified team at the KAN Secretariat; and staff and financial resources geared to the needs. And a whole host of new topics!

Dr Watermann, thank you for the interview. We wish you all the best!