KANBrief 4/16

Safety.Future.Standardization – thoughts on standardization in the future

Standardization is not immune to digitalization and other developments. Does it now need to be reinvented? The growing pace of change demands action from the parties involved. Occupational safety and health concerns must not be neglected in this process. At the 2016 IEC General Meeting (International Electrotechnical Commission), experts examined the new developments from a number of angles under the heading "Safety.Future.Standardization" (Joint event held by KAN and BG ETEM; video).

'Data are the new oil', said IDG Media's Michael Beilfuss, outlining digital work in the near future. Everything is networked, he says, and the only question left is: do we have a connection? These aspects also impact upon standards and the standardization process. Digital tools now enable more people to be reached and involved in standardization activity than would otherwise be possible. This presents opportunities for occupational safety and health. At the same time, digitalization and the continual increase in the pace of change also give rise to risks, for example of people being overloaded with information. Beilfuss nevertheless concludes that we must continue to view the changes positively.

Robots and human beings: standardization must draw upon psychology
Do people like robots? Are they happy to work with robots? 'Answers to these questions differ,' says Dr Martina Mara, a robotics psychologist at the Ars Electronica Future Lab in Linz, Austria. 'We have a love-hate relationship with robots.' People are happy for robots to be used – but preferably in space, i.e. as far away as possible.

They are particularly sceptical about social robots, which resemble human beings in their appearance and which interact and communicate with people through speech, facial expressions and gestures. People don't know what to expect of these machines, says Dr Mara. This unpredictability is a source of fear, particularly of a loss of control. For psychological reasons, it is therefore very important for a robot to be recognized as such.

According to Dr Mara, the key to high acceptance is the trust people have in robots when the latter's actions are predictable. This aspect, she says, must be considered in the standardization of robotic systems, particularly where people are to work directly with robots. Cooperation between disciplines, for example those of engineering and psychology, is important.

System security: 'Throw all your computers away'
'We are facing an absolute security nightmare scenario,' says Dr Sandro Gaycken. What does he mean by that? Any system employing computer hardware and software is vulnerable to attack. Some systems are more difficult to hack than others, but none are completely immune. Hacking may bankrupt companies. For example, the oil on a tanker may have been sold three times before the vessel even reaches the port. Particular attention should be paid in standardization to the relationship between system security and occupational safety and health. What would happen if, for example, collaborative robots were to be hacked? The call to standards developers is therefore: Take care of system security!

Standardization for all
Kirsten Bruhn, triple gold medallist in swimming at the Paralympic Games, reports on barriers that often still exist in everyday life, despite the technical options available. Some technical aids for example are not activated, or are blocked by barriers – literally. 'The intentions are good, but are often defeated by trivialities, such as when toilets suitable for use by the disabled have been installed, but are only accessible by stairs.'

She appeals to standards developers to give consideration in standards to the differences in people's ability. A culture of inclusion would be desirable in which people with disabilities and other limitations are involved in the standardization process, and products are designed as far as possible for accessibility.

Brave new world – but by consensus please
It is undisputed that standardization must change in order to face new technical and social challenges. For the occupational safety and health lobby, it is crucial that the topic of safety is addressed as before by consensus. Workable solutions can be reached only with the involvement of all stakeholders. 

Katharina von Rymon Lipinski