KANBrief 2/13

From industry to the standard – and back again

Christoph Preusse, head of the Occupational Safety Department at the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the woodworking and metalworking industries and Chairman of ISO/TC 199, "Safety of machinery", explains how the wealth of experience gained by the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions in the course of their preventive work can be used on as many levels as possible to improve occupational safety.

How are industrial practice and prevention linked, and how is knowledge transferred between the two?

In order for information to flow, it is crucial for all the experts involved to be closely networked. At company level, these experts particularly include the OSH professionals, the company physicians, and also members of works councils and management personnel. Their direct contacts at the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions are the labour inspectors, who in turn can call upon in-house specialists who are organized in groups along subject lines. These groups are in close contact with the expert committees at the DGUV, which are responsible for cross-sector issues. The expert committees draw up positions which can then be submitted to the standardization process. The process thus comes full circle: the standard serves as a basis for the design and testing of work equipment, and thus in turn has an impact within companies.

Why is the German Social Accident Insurance particularly suited to assuring this transfer?

Our advantage is our close contacts with industry. Owing to our inspection work, we are familiar with the challenges and issues facing companies on the ground. Our testing and certification bodies are familiar with the products, are able to advise manufacturers concerning technical issues, and can support purchasers in the selection of safe products.

How do you validate the information received from the companies in order to produce a viable position from it?

Accident statistics may be a first point of reference, but being mere numerical data, they are a purely quantitative element. Deriving direct measures from them is simply not possible in the majority of cases. Only a precise evaluation of each individual accident investigation report in the discipline concerned can reveal the hazards that ultimately caused the accident, and what measures had been taken to counter them.

This information is supplemented by the findings from precise analysis of the events leading to the accident and the actual industrial environment. Factors such as plant organization, work equipment, the state of the art and the level of training are considered in this context. The information gained in this way forms the basis for the generation of test principles, rules for companies, and participation in standards committee work.

Standardization is an expensive business. Does the investment pay off?

Active involvement of experts from the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions on standards committees is and will continue to be extremely important, at European and international level as well as nationally. Manpower is of course required for this purpose. In return however, we are actively involved in producing good rules, standards, and recognized test principles.

Proposals by our experts are often adopted in standards precisely because of the balanced way in which they are produced: on the one hand, the best possible safety concept and one which is practicable; on the other, both technically and financially achievable.

On occasions, the position adopted by the OSH experts in a standards committee is not shared by any of the other committee members. In such cases, it is advantageous to involve KAN, which with its wide network in Germany and Europe and the involvement of all stakeholders in OSH is able to bring substantially more political weight to bear.

Do initiatives also exist at European level for improving the transfer of knowledge within standardization?

Yes: one example is the ErgoMach project. Users realize very quickly when a machine has not been designed with consideration for ergonomics. Such information is rarely passed back to the manufacturers, however, much less to the market surveillance authorities or standards committees. The ErgoMach communication platform has the purpose of bringing users, machine designers, ergonomics experts, market surveillance authorities, OSH experts, employers, company physicians and members of European and international standards committees to the same table.