KANBrief 3/20

An international presence counts for occupational safety and health

Several flagpoles with EU flags© mik ivan - Fotolia.com

Kai Schweppe became KAN’s new Chair in June 2020. The economic and ergonomic shaping of work has long been a focus of his activities. After completing his engineering degree, he initially worked in company and labour organization within the clothing sector. In 2000, he took up the position of engineer at the Südwestmetall employers’ association. He has headed the association’s department for labour policy since 2011 and has been its Managing Director since 2013.

Mr Schweppe, how do you currently see the direction being taken by KAN, and where would you like it to be heading?

Some time ago, the KAN Executive Board drew up strategic development targets for KAN. In future, KAN is to become even more of a forum for standardization issues and technical regulations in the sphere of occupational safety and health. Through the use of expert discussions and workshops, we intend to involve even more stakeholder groups in the formation of opinion.

What does Europe mean to KAN, and what role can it play there?

The European dimension continues to grow in its importance; decisions taken in Brussels are becoming more and more relevant at national level. For this reason, we are currently establishing a European representation for KAN in Brussels, in order to forge even more direct links to the European institutions, standards organizations and associations – with respect to both social policy and standardization.

At the CEN strategic advisory body for occupational health and safety, SABOHS, we are in the process of setting up an early warning system for standardization initiatives in the field of occupational safety and health. We are represented in the Working Party “Standardization” at the European Commission’s Advisory Committee on Health and Safety at Work. Through EUROSHNET, we are networked with other OSH institutions on issues of standardization, testing and certification. As this shows, we are already active at many points in Europe. Our aim however is to become even better known in Brussels as the voice of occupational safety and health. We must however not stop at Europe, but must also – and particularly – address international standardization activity, as it is increasingly encroaching upon the dialogue between the social partners.

What do you see as the future role of prevention in standardization activity?

Where product safety is concerned, standardization is prevention at source. At the corporate level, we have a dual-track occupational safety system in Germany that is often highly differentiated, comprising statutory requirements on the one hand and regulations of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions on the other. Where national regulations already exist or would be advantageous, our aim is to prevent a third level of regulation in the form of standards from emerging. Conflicting provisions could otherwise arise which companies would no longer be able to implement in practice.

However, some European countries have different structures to ours, and are happy to fall back on standards to regulate OSH issues. In this area, our position is clear: we want occupational safety and health to be given consideration in technical standardization, since machines should be as safe as possible, and protect people. At the same time, we are fundamentally opposed to standards that focus on the safety and health of workers at work or encroach upon the scope of the social partners. We are also opposed to any standards governing management systems. Such systems often entail considerable overhead for certification, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, without necessarily delivering any tangible benefit.

How is standardization being changed by digitalization?

Digitalization calls for new concepts for protection, since digital products can easily be modified subsequently and equipped with new features over networked systems. Moreover, technical development in this area is progressing so rapidly that the state of the art is a moving target. Standardization is therefore increasingly relying on documents such as PASs and CWAs, which can be developed more quickly and easily.

The problem with these fast-track standardization documents is that not all stakeholders are involved in their preparation. As a result, the state of the art is defined only by the parties with, for example, a major strategic interest in the market. This presents us with a dilemma. How can we make the swiftest possible progress with standardization activity, and at the same time involve all stakeholders, ideally internationally? That all are able to participate sounds nice in principle. In practice however, organizing this at a global level is a major undertaking. New solutions for participation are needed.