Editor's Chronicle

Volume 11, Issue 3, 2007

Schlüter R.
KAN - Commission for Occupational Health
and Safety and Standardization - Secretariat
Alte Heerstrasse 111 – D-53757 Sankt Augustin
E-Mail: schlueter@kan.de
http://www.kan.de

EUROSHNET – a network of European OSH experts

The founding of EUROSHNET

In October 2001, the 1st European Conference on standardization, testing and certification was held in Dresden. The conference identified a need for the OSH community in Europe to co-ordinate and agree policy better in order to respond more effectively to the challenges arising from the globalization of markets. Against a backdrop of dwindling resources and increasing internationalization of standardization, the foundation was laid for a network of European OSH experts active in standardization, testing, certification and related research: EUROSHNET ( EURopean Occupational Safety and Health NETwork).

In October 2005, a 2nd European Conference on standardization, testing and certification in the field of occupational safety and health was held in Paris under the heading “An enlarged Europe in a globalized world”. Representatives from the European Commission, European employers’ and employees’ associations, and European and national OSH and standards organizations reported on structures for co-operation in the enlarged Europe, the experience and expectations of the new Member States, and joint OSH activities in a globalized world. Papers were also presented on the particular subjects of practical experience in standards development, testing and certification from the perspective of trade unions, SMEs and OSH institutions. The conference confirmed once more that joint activities and co-ordination of positions are becoming increasingly important in order for OSH experts to be able to present a common European position. Only then will the OSH lobby be able to present its interests to the standardization community, both in general and in particular in relation to international standardization.

EUROSHNET in brief

In 2002, work began on the development of an internet-based, English language communications platform (www.euroshnet.org). Since the end of 2003, the network has enabled experts from European OSH institutions to reach agreement and develop jointly supported positions, quickly and without bureaucracy. A password-protected area of the site is accessible only to participants of the network – an important requirement for the open exchange of views between the OSH experts, and essential for agreement and co-ordination at European level. Participation in the network and therefore access to the password-protected area is reserved for representatives of European OSH institutions who are active in the areas of standardization, testing, certification, and/or related research. Detailed registration criteria help to decide whether or not experts are eligible for participation in the private area of the network.

Figure 1: EUROSHNET in brief

The password-protected area contains a database of experts which forms the basis for a user-friendly combined search and mail function. The database enables experts to be identified according to specified criteria, e.g. nationality or membership of certain standards committees, and contact to be made with them. Groups of experts can be composed according to certain criteria and saved as dedicated e-mail distribution lists. Communication and exchange of information between OSH experts are thus facilitated considerably.

In the private area, a number of subject fora are available in which topical subjects are discussed online. At present, ten discussion fora and subfora exist in which all registered experts may express their opinions online. The fora are set up as and when required, and remain available as long as is considered necessary by the experts. Registered forum participants are notified by e-mail of each new post. A link within the notifying e-mail permits direct access to the post concerned. Documents of any type or size can be attached to posts in forum discussions. These documents can be viewed directly or downloaded and saved on users’ PCs. A search function enables users to search for documents within the system.

Figure 2: Topics discussed in the EUROSHNET fora

In order to raise or discuss questions for which a forum has not yet been created, a “Notice Board” is provided which can be used in a similar way to a discussion forum. All EUROSHNET participants are notified whenever a new post is made to the Notice Board. The notifying function of the notice board cannot be disabled, in contrast to the subject fora. This ensures that all participants are informed of new subjects and are able to take part in the discussion themselves or to make other experts aware of it.

EUROSHNET – Who is behind it?

The activity of the network is supported by a number of groups:

The Steering Committee, comprising members of OSH institutions from six countries (INRS and Eurogip, France; KAN and BG-PRÜFZERT, Germany; FIOH, Finland; HSL, Great Britain; INSHT, Spain and CIOP-PIB, Poland), takes policy decisions concerning strategies and activities and the admission of institutions to the private area. Further tasks of the Steering Committee include adopting important statements on certain OSH subjects, which have been formulated by the experts, as EUROSHNET policy, and making these statements public.

The E uroshnet Working Group meets several times each year in order to promote development of the network, organize events, and maintain contact to the institutions and experts involved. This group is made up of staff from the institutions represented on the Steering Committee.

A coordinator is responsible for each discussion forum in the network. The coordinator is generally supported by a second coordinator . The coordinators’ function is to summarize the forum discussion at intervals, and to intervene and guide discussion when necessary. The coordinators meet regularly in the Coordinators’ Group to exchange their views and experience and to coordinate their positions concerning new subjects which are to be addressed or which concern several disciplines.

Contact Points currently exist in 17 EU Member States; their main function lies in promoting the involvement of OSH experts in EUROSHNET in their respective countries. A first meeting of representatives of these Contact Points was held in early 2005. In order to win more OSH institutions for participation in EUROSHNET it is planned to hold lectures and seminars in all European countries to support the contact points.

A 1st EUROSHNET meeting with 55 EUROSHNET participants from numerous eastern and western European countries took place in October 2005 in conjunction with the Paris Conference. The experts met in order to add a personal dimension to the contacts which they had already forged on EUROSHNET and to pool practical experience. The meeting also served to compile suggestions for further improvement of the system.

Why is yet another network deemed necessary?

Whilst OSH institutions have been participating in European standards development activity increasingly since the 1980s, greater involvement in standardization has now been observed for some time at the international level: the internationalization of standardization has been one consequence of the progressive globalization of the economy. At international level, however, there is no counterpart to the European approach of supporting the essential requirements of binding directives by means of harmonized European standards. It is nevertheless important that the level of protection required by European Single Market directives be upheld. Only then can international standards adopted unchanged in the European body of standards, and barriers to trade avoided. Involvement in standards committees which operate at international level is however considerably more costly than activity on national or European committees. A need exists for the stakeholders to coordinate their positions. Industry, trade unions and consumers have been grouping at European level for some time in order to present their interests to the standards development process. Co-ordination and distribution of the work at European level are also essential for the OSH institutions of individual Member States, since in isolation, they have only limited means of presenting their concerns to the international standardization process.

EUROSHNET today

As of February 2006, more than 300 representatives of 73 OSH institutions from 16 countries are active in EUROSHNET, the number of posts in the ten discussion fora amounts to more than 300 – in purely statistical terms, then, a notable development. When the EUROSHNET communications platform was launched at the end of 2003, 74 experts from six countries were registered, and the discussion fora had a total of six posts. Within two and a half years, the number of experts has more than quadrupled and the number of posts increased rapidly.

Figure 3: Experts registered in EUROSHNET - Development

Subjects of relevance to occupational health and safety and which concern standardization and essential issues relating to testing and certification, particularly in the areas of machinery, personal protective equipment and emissions, are discussed in eight fora and two subfora. The forum posts were initially seen to be purely informative in nature. Information was posted for instance from the European Commission, Council Resolutions concerning standardization and documents concerning measurement uncertainty in tests. More general questions were also posed, for example concerning research projects conducted by European OSH institutions. Increasingly, experts are seen to be commenting on very specific issues, for example concerning the safety requirements for tower cranes, fixed ladders, or the search for experts on fork-lift trucks. Notification at an early stage that a Member State is planning to raise a formal objection to a standard resulted in rapid formation of opinion and agreement with the OSH experts of other Member States, with the result that the formal objection was supported by the OSH groups of other Member States and was consequently successful.

Conclusion

To summarize: EUROSHNET represents a joining of forces by European OSH experts in order for them to reach common positions on issues of relevance to occupational health and safety in standardization, testing and certification. The Internet-based communications system, which has been tailored to the needs of the user group, enables contact to be made extremely quickly with experts in other institutions throughout Europe, and common positions to be developed. The OSH community thereby has at its disposal an instrument the value of which cannot be overestimated, particularly against the backdrop of globalization and the associated internationalization of standards. Obviously, the network is still in its infancy. The experience already gained also shows that a critical mass of participants is necessary in order for discussions actually to take place across the broad area covered by EUROSHNET. The groups already mentioned, who are furthering development of the network, are well aware of this fact and are making every effort possible to publicize the network throughout Europe and to place it on a wider footing in terms of the experts involved. This initiative, which is not abating, is based upon the firm conviction that EUROSHNET is of inestimable value to occupational health and safety, and that its use will enable considerable savings in time and cost to be made.

Experts of OSH institutions in all European countries who are active in standardization, testing, certification and related research are invited to register with EUROSHNET and to contribute to occupational health and safety being given adequate consideration not only in European, but also in international standards.