KANBrief 4/23

Occupational safety and health institutes in several countries adopt position on standardization

In 2014, KAN joined the French OSH institutes EUROGIP and INRS in signing a joint declaration on standardization policy in the field of occupational safety and health. The declaration dealt with issues that were emerging at that time, such as the role of new forms of standardization document, standardization in the area of services and the standardization of management systems. The declaration has now been updated.

The position paper, jointly adopted in 2014 as the “Bonn Declaration”, addresses topical occupational safety and health issues in European standardization. CIOP-PIB, the Polish OSH institute, also signed the declaration in 2016. In the years since its adoption, many new topics have arisen in standardization. For this reason, the signatory institutions have launched a revision process to bring the document up to date and add further aspects that will have a significant impact on current and future standardization work.

An additional objective was to garner the support of further European OSH institutes for the declaration. An invitation to participate was extended to other institutes through the EUROSHNET network. The first drafts met with a positive response, leading to INSST in Spain and FIOH in Finland also participating in the update.

Declaration updated and extended

The positions on some issues that were already present in the first declaration have been adapted to the developments over recent years. These include positions on product standardization, standardization documents and standardization concerning the safety and health of workers at work.

With regard to product standardization, the signatory institutions call for safety levels in Europe to be upheld when international ISO and IEC standards are adopted as European harmonized standards. The system by which HAS Consultants review harmonized standards for their compliance with EU legislation is generally regarded favourably; however, the harmonized standards should be listed in the Official Journal of the European Union more swiftly following review.

Standardization documents such as CWA, IWAs and PASs are not suitable for addressing matters of occupational safety and health. These document formats should also be clearly indicated as such to distinguish them from standards in the strict sense. Technical Specifications (TSs) can be used for time-critical projects, whereas Technical Reports (TRs) are suitable for projects with purely informative occupational safety and health content.

The joint declaration emphasizes the distinction between the role of standards in product safety on the one hand and in the safety and health of workers at work on the other. With regard to the latter, the declaration calls on the standards bodies to evaluate new standardization projects in advance and to develop standards in this area only if they actually improve occupational safety and health and do not conflict with national regulations.

New aspects: digitalization, artificial intelligence, standardization strategy

Certain completely new aspects have been included in the declaration. One consequence of digitalization for standardization is that many meetings are now held in virtual form. This has the advantage of increasing participation and reducing the travel overhead. The declaration notes that personal contact on standards committees is still important for consensus-building, and that face-to-face meetings should therefore not be discontinued altogether.

Standardization in the field of artificial intelligence also poses a challenge for occupational safety and health. How occupational safety and health issues are addressed in the standards is crucial to the successful standardization of AI technologies. This requires OSH experts to be involved closely in the standardization processes. The AI standards must also be compatible with the risk assessment methods used in product and occupational safety.

The political significance of standardization is demonstrated by EU Commission initiatives, such as the standardization strategy published in 2022. The joint declaration states that standardization work must continue to be based on consensus and follow democratic principles. It is also important that all stakeholders in occupational safety and health are sufficiently involved in the standardization processes.

Thejoint declaration (pdf) was published in December 2023.

Freeric Meier