KANBrief 1/17

Standardization and the safety and health of workers at work: rewriting the rules of the game

Aspects of the safety and health of workers at work are frequently addressed by standards. As a matter of principle, however, state rules and regulations and those of the accident insurance institutions take priority over standards. Since 2015, the interface between standardization and the rules and regulations has been governed by the Policy paper on the role of standardization in the safety and health of workers at work (pdf), which has now been supplemented by a more detailed process description (pdf).

The new process description elaborates on the "rules of the game" set out in the policy paper concerning new work items and work items in progress with a bearing upon the safety and health of workers at work. It describes the functions of the players and supports the objective of incorporating the expertise of all stakeholders in OSH into KAN's strategies in an appropriate and timely manner. At adoption of the process description, KAN also agreed in November 2016 that the policy paper represented a further development of the German Consensus Statement (GDS) (pdf) valid up to that point and thus constituted the current, applicable document for the work of the KAN Secretariat.

What players are involved?

  • DIN informs the KAN Secretariat as early as possible of new, relevant work items.
  • The state technical committees and the expert committees of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) present their standpoints via the KAN Secretariat.
  • The employers and employees present their standpoints through their representatives in the KAN Secretariat.
  • The KAN Secretariat coordinates the decision-making process, reconciles the standpoints and presents the result to KAN for a final decision.
  • KAN determines the final position of the OSH community.

The course of the game
As soon as DIN or experts from among the OSH stakeholders learn of a new work item, item in progress or draft standard at the public enquiry stage with a bearing upon the safety and health of workers at work, they inform the KAN Secretariat in order for the further procedure to be agreed. The KAN Secretariat examines the work item – or where already available, the draft standard – and requests comments from the OSH stakeholders. As a matter of principle, state technical rules and regulations and those of the accident insurance institutions have priority over standards. In accordance with the policy paper, answers must be found to a number of questions. For example: does the work item address fundamental OSH obligations (such as risk assessment)? Do rules and regulations exist concerning the subject? Will a stakeholder in OSH be actively involved in the work item?

Should a state technical committee or DGUV expert committee not respond by the deadline stated, KAN interprets this as an abstention on the part of the stakeholder. Should evaluation of the work item be clear to the KAN Secretariat from the outset, it does not need to involve the state or DGUV committees.

National "chance" card
If requirements concerning the safety and health of workers at work cannot be prevented at European level from being included in the standard, KAN can use the national foreword in order to explain the link between the standard and the national body of regulations and to draw attention to any contradictions or overlap. Where contradictions exist, application can also be made for an A deviation. A deviations in the annex of a European standard draw attention to legal requirements in Member States with which certain normative requirements in the standard are not compatible. This enables the standard to serve as a source of information on occupational safety and health without having binding legal force.

Current state of play
The KAN Secretariat has been conducting its work with reference to the policy paper since 2015. Further detail issues have been resolved by the description of the process. DIN is now providing additional support by informing the KAN Secretariat on a weekly basis of newly adopted work items that may have a bearing on the safety and health of workers at work. The state committees and DGUV expert committees are also increasingly adopting the new procedure and in many cases have already provided very useful feedback. The deadlines for feedback imposed by the standardization process are however in some cases very short.

The prospects are good for the interface between standardization with a bearing on the safety and health of workers at work and the body of state regulations to be given greater consideration in the future. In order for the game to serve its purpose and to produce a coherent body of rules and regulations for the protection of employees, all players must however be familiar with the new rules of the game and must find them reasonable. The game's success will be seen in practice. 

Angela Janowitz