KANBrief 1/15

The social partners in KAN: "Not all topics are suitable for standardization"

A growing trend in recent years has been for standards bodies to address new topics markedly different from those of traditional technical products. What consequences does this trend have for occupational safety and health? Should everything be standardized that conceivably can be? Daniela Tieves-Sander and Eckhard Metze head the employees' and employers' liaison offices at the KAN Secretariat. Here, they explain the viewpoints of the trade unions and the employers respectively.

Mr Metze, you have been involved in KAN's work for over 15 years. What has changed in this time?

Metze: Our way of working has certainly changed, as have the terms of reference. In its early years, KAN slowly came to grips with exerting influence upon selected standardization projects and upon standardization processes in general. Today, the focus of its work is quite different: effective participation in standardization work at European and international level, and also intensive work in new areas of standardization.

Which of these new areas is particularly important to employers?

Metze: The standardization of OSH management systems, i.e. ISO 45001, springs immediately to mind, as I am also actively involved personally in the international standardization process in this area. We are in fact opposed to standardization of OSH management systems. But participating in the process is certainly better than to be left facing a fait accompli. I also find it problematic that standardization is increasingly encroaching upon areas that really have nothing to do with traditional technical standardization. Examples of this are subjects such as compliance, the combating of corruption, human resource management, sustainability, and also requirements concerning services and qualifications. But technical standardization is also facing new challenges. "Industry 4.0" is a buzzword, referring to the computerization of traditional industries. Standardization will also have to address demographic change in the sphere of ergonomics.

How do the trade unions view these new, "soft" subjects?

Tieves-Sander: We are also sceptical of these developments. Where OSH management systems (OSHMSs) are concerned, it should first be stressed that the existing German state regulations governing the safety and health of workers at work continue to take priority. OSH-MSs may support the satisfaction of these requirements. The successful OSHMSs of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions (DGUV) are positive examples, but they demonstrate at the same time that such systems do not need to be based upon a standard. In other words, we fear that companies will spend a lot of money on certificates that could better have been invested in OSH measures.

In that case, where in your view do the limits to standardization lie?

Tieves-Sander: Standardization is very useful in the technical sphere. Employees and members of works councils must be able to have confidence that all products on sale within the European Single Market are safe. The trade unions therefore note with concern the delays in the revision of important standards. The standards institutes should focus upon this area, their core business, rather than continually placing new standardization products, which are often of little benefit, on the market. In "soft" topics such as corporate social responsibility, standardization of terminology can conceivably further mutual understanding. But that it should be possible to certify the observance of human rights in a delivery chain or production process, for example, is highly dubious.

In what direction is standardization heading, and how can its course be influenced?

Metze: It is becoming increasingly import for KAN to ensure that issues that are generally the preserve of the parties to collective bargaining are excluded from the scope of standardization. Topics such as remuneration or social aspects of occupational safety and health (In contrast to engineered occupational safety and health, social aspects of occupational safety and health concern the rights of employee groups in need of special protection [young people, pregnant women and nursing mothers, severely disabled persons, etc.]) lie outside this scope. Likewise, KAN's tasks should continue to include opposing further over-regulation within occupational safety and health. Standards relevant to OSH that effectively become mandatory owing to certification or the demand for it should be prevented.

Tieves-Sander: We are not conscious of over-regulation in the field of OSH; on the contrary, we see areas where more regulation is needed. Using standards to achieve this is not effective, however. The new BMAS policy paper on the role of standardization in the safety and health of workers at work (refer also to KANBrief 1/15) points in the right direction by emphasizing the priority to be accorded to state legislation and setting out the framework for the use of standards within the body of technical regulations.