KANBrief 4/18

New developments mean mastering new challenges

Peer-Oliver Villwock (POV), head of the Occupational Safety and Health Directorate at the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), and Dr Thomas Zielke (TZ), Head of the Technology transfer via standardisation and patents division at the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), explain with reference to examples what new challenges are currently facing occupational safety and health and standardization in a rapidly changing world.

An initiative has been launched to save the New Approach. What should we understand by that?

TZ: This is an initiative by the business community, which like us regards functioning standardization as crucial to the Single Market, and wishes to draw attention to certain undesirable developments. Among other things, this specifically concerns the review by the European Commission of new standards for correctness. The depth of review is being justified with reference – not always credible – to rulings by the European Court of Justice, and is considered unreasonable by industry. Delays in the listing of new standards in the Official Journal of the EU and a lack of flexibility in the Commission's proposals for new standardization mandates have also attracted criticism. At the same time, the Commission's departments lack sufficient staff for the tasks they have set themselves. The BMWi shares some of these reservations, and intends to raise the subject of unfavourable developments and to correct them in conjunction with other Member States and the European Commission itself.

Fast-track standardization documents are on the rise. Is adequate involvement of the stakeholders assured?

TZ: The DIN SPEC (PAS) is primarily a technical instrument, and its development an adjustment of DIN's standardization policy in response to ever shorter product cycles and the growing pace of technical developments, not least in the digital sphere. A further factor is that users now expect standards to be set practically in real time.

It must also be considered that standards organizations are autonomous institutions that are largely responsible for assuring their own funding and should therefore have the freedom to develop new business models of their own. The German government's role here is solely that of an observer and party to the standardization agreement. DIN SPEC (PAS) can be one way by which specifications formulated in Germany can facilitate a swift international response to emerging technical developments. Fast-track standardization documents are still subject to minimum requirements concerning participation, however. Transparent procedures must be assured.

How can standardization support changes in the world of work whilst at the same time taking occupational safety and health interests into account?

POV: In its White Paper Work 4.0, the BMAS has developed a guiding concept for good work in the process of digital change. The white paper describes considerable potential; in some areas however it also reveals risks. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that, for example, aspects of product safety and IT security and their interaction must be considered integrally, together with safe human-computer interaction. In the new technologies, product safety and the safety and health of workers at work are also increasingly having a mutual influence and developing new interfaces to each other. Opportunities arise here for standardization to facilitate the early integration of occupational safety and health into design processes.

In the light of this situation, how do you view KAN's role?

POV: Since 1994, KAN has been the national clearing point at the interface between standardization and the safety and health of workers at work. KAN observes, informs and intervenes as a neutral player. It unites a range of perspectives: those of the German government, the accident insurance institutions, and the social partners. Especially where disruptive innovations are concerned, as many perspectives as possible are needed.

Standardization is responding to the shorter innovation cycles with fast-track processes such as Project 18.0 and new standardization products such as the DIN SPEC. Such products must assure participation by the stakeholders. The boundary between product properties and operation is also becoming increasingly blurred. This presents new challenges for KAN. KAN will increasingly take the role of mediator between the body of technical regulations and standardization, and not only at national level, but increasingly also by direct participation on European and international standards committees. Through European and international standardization, we are increasingly confronted with topics that in Germany have traditionally been governed outside standardization. This is an issue that we must address – as a matter of urgency.