Helsinki, geographically on Europe's northern frontier but economically and technologically at its heart, was the venue of the EUROSHNET conference on "Stakeholder interaction – the key to product safety". That safe products in Europe can be attained only if experience is pooled by all stakeholders, from planning through to use, was a topic discussed by around 150 participants from 20 countries, the majority of them in Europe.
State institutions alongside researchers, manufacturers alongside standards experts, employees alongside employers: the participants at the fourth European conference organized by EUROSHNET reflected the full breadth of stakeholders in product safety, and provided valuable input for the future in papers and discussions.
Making the voice of users heard
The legal foundation of product safety was described by Giuseppina Bitondo, speaking on behalf of the European Commission. Whereas the New Approach was still focused upon the manufacturers, the current New Legislative Framework (NLF) is also geared to accreditation, market surveillance, and other economic players. Product safety is thus to be implemented at every stage along the supply chain.
Under the chair of David Bosworth of the HSE, users and manufacturers also discussed use of the products. In the opinion of many participants, it is desirable for users to be involved in the selection of work equipment to be procured. If the purchaser is to consider the particular work situation of the user, support is absolutely essential. For Dr. Jochen Appt (DGUV) and Raphaël Haeflinger (EUROGIP), this may for example take the form of consultancy by OSH institutions, reliable certification marks, and manufacturers' information that is comprehensible to users. It was stressed repeatedly that users lack opportunities to provide feedback on products.
The attraction of standardization is that in principle it is open to all stakeholders. This was the conclusion reached by the representatives of state authorities, standards organizations and testing and certification bodies in a panel discussion chaired by Michael Koll of the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS). In practice however, users, state authorities and in particular the market surveillance bodies must make even greater use of the opportunity to participate.
Product safety ten years from now
The "product safety mission" has not yet been accomplished. In the view of Ian Fraser of the European Commission, the regulatory process is essentially functioning well with the NLF; improvements are however required, for example regarding the completeness of standards or participation by all stakeholders. Ernst-Peter Ziethen, the CEN Vice-President Technical, confirmed that standardization must respond to the demand for it to be simpler, faster, better and more flexible, whilst not losing sight of stakeholders' expectations and the quality of the standards.
Karl-Heinz Noetel and Henning Krüger of the German Social Accident Insurance formulated 10 propositions for the future of testing and certification. Since manufacturers are increasingly seeking to protect themselves against risks of product liability claims, testing and certification are growing in importance. In the future, more and more tests will be performed virtually and digitally. Aspects of testing such as ergonomics, energy efficiency and environmental responsibility will become more important. Accreditation, the test marks and the notified bodies will become more international in character, and networking with other bodies more pressing.
The importance of the market surveillance authorities as a major player in product safety was a recurring theme during the conference. Phil Papard (HSE/ADCO Group Machinery) pointed out however that market surveillance authorities face the dilemma of a continual increase in tasks accompanied by diminishing resources. "Doing more with less by working smarter" will be possible only through greater co-operation (see KANBrief 3/12).
Didier Baptiste presented the future key topics of PEROSH, the partnership for European Research in Occupational Safety and Health. These particularly include work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) of multifactorial origin, psychosocial risks, and risks presented by new technologies.
It was evident in all the discussions that the challenges presented by new products, globalization, diminishing resources and ageing populations can be met only by means of stronger Europe-wide co-operation between all parties.
Angela Janowitz Harri Vainio