KANBrief 1/13

The diversity of service standards

Service standards are in the ascendency, and are being lent strong support by the European Commission and standards organizations. The objective is for standards to make services even more easily comparable and to permit trade in them across national borders. Occupational safety and health is seldom a focus of such standards. As a criterion for the quality of a service, it is however frequently among the subjects addressed in standards, despite policy positions to the contrary.

Services accompany us from the cradle to the grave. This is reflected in the breadth of standards governing them. Examples of topics addressed in standards include the cleaning of schools, adult education and leisure facilities (diving, beach services, tourist information, spa facilities). Standards address health issues (Chinese medicine, cosmetic surgery) and extend to assisted housing and funereal services.

Service standards are however characterized not only by their diversity, but also by their links to other topics, such as the required skills of the personnel providing the service and the management of procedures. In addition, service standards are frequently linked to product standards, since enterprises often wish to market a "complete package" comprising product and service. This can be seen with standards which for example regulate not only the requirements placed upon equipment, tools and accessories for landscaping and construction, but also their maintenance and hire.

Wide diversity necessitates structures

The standardization of services lacks an adequate planning strategy on the part of the stakeholders. Service providers frequently fail to see any additional value in standardizing their "products"; conversely, a small group may wish to use standards to promote its own interests on the market. In addition, a harmonized basic structure for the texts of the standards, such as that familiar from the area of machinery, has not yet emerged, despite the rules set out in CEN Guide 15 concerning the development of service standards. With its Strategic Advisory Group on Services (CEN/BT WG 214 (SAGS)), CEN is seeking to rectify this situation.

The European Commission is making efforts of its own: with the 2006/123/EC Services Directive, which is intended to strengthen the Single Market for services; with the new Standardisation Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1025/2012 on European standardisation, published in the Official Journal of the EU L 316/12 on 14 November 2012), which also considers the standardization of services; with Directive 98/34, which now also extends to services in its governing of the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations.

Greater standardization of services is also one of the European Commission's "twelve levers" for the development of the Single Market. The development of horizontal standards, for example governing customer information, contracts, complaints procedures and requirements upon parties providing services, is the objective of a current draft mandate to CEN.

What are the implications for occupational safety and health?

The aim of the standards is to assure services of high quality. This quality is determined by the most diverse of factors, which suppliers and customers also consider to include reasonable working conditions for the providers of services. Service standards thus also include requirements governing the occupational safety and health of the workers – an area which is governed at European level by directives under Article 153 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) and at national level in the body of OSH rules and regulations. As a result, duplicate provisions or contradictions may arise.

For example, DIN 77200 governing security services (e.g. static guarding and cash-in-transit services) also addressed occupational safety and health as a quality aspect. Intensive discussions were held between KAN and the standards committee, with the result that the comprehensive original provisions governing the health and safety of workers at work have now been deleted across the board from the standard. The supplier must however demonstrate his activities in this area upon request. This compromise shows that service providers and customers were not prepared to delete occupational safety and health entirely from the standard, even though the European legal system makes no provision for it in this context.

Since the relevance of occupational safety and health is frequently not immediately apparent in many standardization documents and mandates for specific service standards, close monitoring of standardization activity is advisable. Where occupational safety and health is concerned, KAN's position on the standardization of services (pdf) and CEN Guide 15 apply: the health and safety of workers at work should as a matter of principle not be governed by standards.

Angela Janowitz