Standardization: indispensable for prevention, now and in the future
Dr Walter Eichendorf has been Deputy Director General of the German Social Accident Insurance and responsible for the VFA, KAN's sponsoring organization, since 1998. He has also been closely involved in standardization for many years as a member of the DIN Presidial Board. Before he retires in the autumn of 2018, Dr Eichendorf reveals his expectations of standardization in the future, and why it is as important as ever for the statutory accident insurance system.
Tighter development deadlines for standards, new forms of documents, growing digitalization of standardization: is the traditional standard now obsolete?
It will be exciting to see what form DIN's vision for the future digitalization of standardization will take: digital, machine-readable standards are to be suitable for integration into manufacturers' own IT systems and ultimately even directly into products – with automatic updates when the standard is revised.
At the same time, DIN is promoting DIN SPEC (PASs) with fast-track development. DIN SPEC (PASs) are now even available free of charge. According to DIN, SPECs are to be converted into standards. However, companies can now download the DIN SPEC (PASs) free of charge on the Internet – why should they then purchase a standard?
Why does the occupational safety and health lobby have such a problem with DIN SPEC (PASs)?
DIN SPEC (PASs) are not produced in standards committees on the consensus principle; instead, their content is determined solely by the parties sitting at the table, and important stakeholders, such as the occupational safety and health lobby, are often not present. Topics relevant to OSH lie outside the scope of PASs. It has however not been clarified decisively what exactly is meant by "relevant to OSH".
The question is whether we wish to continue to reject this form of document as a matter of principle. It might be better to negotiate conditions with DIN that enable the benefits of this form of document to be exploited, also in the interests of occupational safety and health. Standards are always playing catch-up, and only reflect what has already become established. For OSH topics such as smart PPE, DIN SPEC (PASs) could then even assist in introducing innovative ideas more quickly into the practical sphere.
Are accident insurance institutions tending to withdraw from standardization activity?
Standardization is and will remain a key prevention instrument by ensuring that work equipment is of safe and ergonomic design. Around 600 representatives from the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions are involved in standardization work, many of them in leading functions on European or international committees. This number may initially appear high; less so however considering that of the 30,000 German standards, around 7,000 are relevant to occupational safety and health. The involvement of the OSH lobby must be stepped up, because we can have a say in the content of standards only if we are actively involved at national, EU and international level.
Limited resources and greater involvement – how is that going to work?
In order to use its limited resources effectively, the occupational safety and health lobby should act strategically. We must create functioning networks and set priorities for the committees on which we wish to be represented, whether at national, European or international level. Sadly, little can be attained in the particularly important issues at German level alone.
If we wish to make the Vision Zero a reality, we cannot therefore afford to think purely in national terms, but must step up our involvement at European and international level even further. Standardization also has a multiplier function for the statutory accident insurance system: consulting with a company benefits only the one company, whereas a standard benefits hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of companies.
In the face of the current developments, what future role do you see for KAN?
Increasingly often, standardization is addressing topics beyond traditional product safety, such as services, or aspects of the safety and health of workers at work. In this context, KAN is ideally placed to assume the role of mediator for standardization and secondary rules and regulations concerning occupational safety and health. Where a need for regulation exists in innovative areas, it is advantageous for information first to be gathered in conjunction with the stakeholders, for example by means of workshops. This enables the aspects requiring regulation and the suitable form of regulation to be identified. KAN is extremely well networked and can therefore forge contacts in several directions – with state authorities, the accident insurance institutions, employers, employees – whilst at the same time remaining neutral.