KANBrief 1/11

DIN workshop discusses standards governing mental stress and strain

The philosophy of the standards governing mental stress at work has proved effective. Certain changes are planned however for the upcoming revision. DIN's Ergonomics standards committee launched this review by selecting an instrument not usually employed in standardization: a workshop. In the workshop, numerous explicit proposals were made for further development of the standards. These will be exploited by the committee as a basis for its work.

Standards in the EN ISO 10075 series (Ergonomic principles related to mental work-load) are among the best known ergonomics standards. This series represents the international consensus on the subject. In three parts, it describes essential aspects, formulates requirements for investigation and measurement, and issues design recommendations for the optimization of the mental stress situation. Until now, its revision had been postponed in consideration of more generic standardization activity. Since the decision last year to retain the generic ergonomics standard ISO 6385:2004, Ergonomic principles in the design of work systems unchanged, and with the emergence in draft form of a dedicated standard for the design of ergonomic work in general in the form of ISO/FDIS 26800:2011, Ergonomics - General approach, principles and concepts (Source: © Laurig), the EN ISO 10075 series of standards can now be reviewed for their consistency with the state of the art.

On 20 January 2011, a workshop was organized by the DIN Ergonomics standards committee on the subject of mental stress and strain. This event, serving to some extent as a public hearing regarding how effective the standards had been, was well attended. Around 80 delegates from employers' and industry associations, trade unions, OSH authorities, accident insurance institutions, test bodies, consultancies and research institutions responded to the invitation to attend. The aim of the workshop was to identify changes which may currently be observed in the area of mental stress and strain, to identify the existing knowledge in this area, and to determine the relevance to standardization of the developments.

In the discussion, the delegates attested to the high regard in which the EN ISO 10075 series of standards is held, and to its effectiveness in the field. It was considered for example to have aided the harmonization of terminology, and was being used as a basis for numerous company and sectoral agreements. Nevertheless, numerous proposals were also made for the planned revision.

The most important of these concerned Part 1, "General terms and definitions". A clear consensus among the speakers on this subject was that terms such as "stress", which have long acquired currency in both research and the field, should be included in the standard. Now was also considered an appropriate time for the stress/strain concept, which has existed in its present form for around 40 years, to be updated. Several papers in the field of occupational psychology revealed scope for the model, which is considered simplistic, to be extended by new findings. On the "input side", for example, a distinction might for example be drawn between cognitive, emotional and physical impacts. These could in turn be classified as (positive) demands and (negative) stressors. On the "output side" of the model, too, clearer differentiation should be made than in the past between short-term and longer-term effects, which in turn should be differentiated according to whether they are positive or negative. Their changes and interdependencies over time should also be included in the model.

Part 2, "Design principles" of EN ISO 10075 shows how impairing strain may arise. The principles described for the avoidance of negative consequences of strain (such as fatigue, monotony or reduced vigilance) and for optimization of the strain may contribute to prevention when consideration is given to them during the development of a work system. During discussion of the proposals for amendments, the workshop participants emphasized that the principles would of course have to be adapted as soon as changes to terminology and concepts were made in Part 1. In addition, the text of the standard should be thoroughly revised, in order for example to address the differences between manufacturing and service-sector work.

Before the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) formally begins the task of revision, the German mirror committee is now able to begin developing its position in detail based upon the results of the workshop. In the process, consideration should be given to the changes in the world of work and results of recent ergonomic research.

Ulrich Bamberg

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