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KANBrief 1/15

Standardization in the safety and health of workers at work: a new policy paper provides guidance

Direction sign with coloured boards© Michael Hüter

On 23 October 2014, a working group led by the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs agreed a new policy paper on the role of standardization in the safety and health of workers at work1. The paper formulates the framework conditions applicable in Germany, contains provisions for the launching and monitoring of standardization projects, and provides information on the use of standards within the body of state regulations and those of the accident insurance institutions.

Dynamic economic development, the pace of technological innovation, new forms of work, and modern communications and media are just some of the factors currently driving modern occupational safety and health activity. As a result, the requirements concerning safety and health at work are becoming more diverse, more forward-thinking – and also more complex. At the same time, European and international standardization is becoming increasingly relevant to the safety and health of workers at work.

These developments necessitate re-evaluation of the co-operation between the OSH institutions and the standards organizations. Owing to their great practical significance and their function of describing the state of the art, standards have a major impact. Modern standards not only set out technical requirements for products, however, but are also becoming increasingly relevant to the traditional area of the safety and health of workers at work. In contrast to the statutory framework and the body of regulations of the statutory accident insurance institutions, standards governing the safety and health of workers at work are not legally binding. Only with reference to technical product requirements within the European Single Market do harmonized standards give rise to a presumption of conformity.

These structural and functional aspects are taken up by the new policy paper, which was developed by representatives of the highest legislative authorities of the German regional OSH administrations, the umbrella associations of the statutory accident insurance institutions, the social partners, DIN/VDE, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), and the KAN Secretariat. The paper describes the criteria and framework conditions for standardization activity concerning the safety and health of workers at work, and defines the scope and limits of this activity. In particular, it underlines the priority accorded to state rules and regulations and to those of the accident insurance institutions over standards. The paper takes up the essential course set by the German Consensus Statement, and develops it further: by formulating fundamental questions, it offers specific guidance on harmonized and transparent procedures to state OSH committees and expert committees of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions seeking to use standards in their bodies of regulations. This may lead to greater use being made of standards within these bodies' rules and regulations. Provided the test criteria of the policy paper are observed, standards can enhance the standard of safety and health in Germany.

At the same time, the "rules of the game" agreed by all parties involved and set out in the policy paper define the limits to standardization where decisions must be taken at the level of government social policy. This particularly ensures that standardization is prevented as before from encroaching upon the core area of the safety and health of workers at work, for example risk assessment, the organization of OSH activity, or preventive occupational medical care.

Of further benefit for the work of regulators is the description of possible scenarios for the use of standards, ranging from the statement of sources, through cross-references, to full citation. The legal implications of the form of use are also described, particularly with regard to observance of standards organizations' copyright.

Altogether, the policy paper constitutes a milestone towards a harmonized body of rules and regulations in the field of occupational safety and health. Following publication on 31 August 2011 of the guideline paper2, which differentiates the scope of the respective regulations of the German state OSH authorities and the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions, the policy paper now adds the missing component of standardization in the area of the safety and health of workers at work. Together, the two papers make an important contribution to implementation of the statutory mandate enshrined within the German Occupational Health and Safety Act (ArbschG), Volume VII of the German Social Code, and the Joint German OSH Strategy for creation of a harmonized and consistent body of OSH regulations.

Achim Duve, Georg Hilpert, Michael Koll,
German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs