KANBrief 4/12

Occupational safety and health begins at the purchasing stage

Owing to the frequently bewilderingly large number of products and suppliers, the purchase of suitable work equipment presents many companies with a challenge. They often lack information by which a particular product can be evaluated regarding its suitability for a particular work task. Product testing and certification can provide valuable support in this context.

The avoidance of risks to a company's workers is not merely a question of its organizational procedures, but begins with procurement of the work equipment. Whether the employees are exposed to safety and health hazards must be evaluated at the beginning of the procurement process, with the involvement of the intended users and the OSH experts in the company.

Requirements from the user's perspective resulting from these considerations should be summarized in a list (for example in the form of a specification). In addition, all responsibilities, for example concerning the erection of a machine, test operation, and training of the employees, should be set out clearly in a purchasing agreement.

 Standards can be very useful for identifying and describing needs and requirements. They define terminology, dimensions, interfaces and harmonized markings, and contain requirements concerning the assurance of safety and health. They therefore facilitate communication between manufacturers and purchasers.

Information is often at a premium

Purchasers require clear and comprehensible information on the criteria that are important for product selection. When shortlisting products, purchasers must verify that they are safe and do not present hazards to health. Manufacturers do of course have a duty to place only safe products on the market. A glance at RAPEX (EU-wide rapid alert system for non-food dangerous products) however shows that this is not always the case.

The Internet is often an important source of information. Sadly, many manufacturers still fail to make adequate reliable information on safety and the protection of health available on the Internet.

Standards are not available in the majority of purchasing companies. Small and mediumsized enterprises in particular are not familiar with the specific provisions of the standards. Product standards are in any case intended for manufacturers, and not for the products' users in the companies. A means of communication is therefore required between the standards bodies and the end users. This function is frequently fulfilled by OSH institutions, and sometimes also by dealers and industry associations. The DGUV's Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (IFA), for example, provides assistance on its website on selection of suitable chemical protective gloves.

Instruction handbooks are a further useful source of information prior to purchase. They contain information on the intended use (the most important item of information), noise and vibration, residual risks, and much more. The instruction handbooks are however rarely available to purchasers prior to purchase.

Test marks provide assistance

Is a selected product safe, or not? A company buying a product will not be able to test many of the product characteristics itself at justifiable expense, if at all. CE marking is also not helpful, since it does not indicate whether the manufacturer has had his product tested by an external body. Instead of trusting the manufacturer's information blindly or simply relying upon observations or recommendations, the purchaser can attach importance to third-party test marks that the manufacturer has obtained for his product voluntarily.

For a test mark such as the GS or DGUV Test marks to be awarded, an independent body must subject the product to intensive testing and issue the manufacturer with certification that it satisfies the safety and health requirements. DGUV Test's fault statistics reveal that 67% of all products submitted for EC type examination or voluntary certification exhibit defects. The good news is that almost all manufacturers are able to improve their products such that they can subsequently be awarded a certificate.

To create greater transparency here, not least at European level, we are preparing the introduction of the EuroTest mark in conjunction with European partner bodies. This will be a European test mark for products used in trade and industry.

Dr. Jochen Appt                 Rüdiger Reitz

jochen.appt@dguv.de  ruediger.reitz@dguv.de