by Bruno Zwingmann (Basi e. V.) on the occasion of the 32nd International Congress

The 34th International Congress on Health and Safety (A+A) will be held in Düsseldorf from 27 to 30 October. During the four days of the convention Basi, the organiser, would like to invite all experts to gather information and discuss the full spectrum of current issues in matters of health, safety and ergonomics. Running in parallel with A+A, the convention will feature 60 series of events, with 350 prominent speakers – all of them experts in health and safety politics, research and practice. The convention is expected to attract 5,500 visitors.

Preventive healthcare in the public debate

The public debate in Germany continues to have a major focus on the issue of “Health at Work”, particularly mental health. This fundamentally positive approach to preventive healthcare and health promotion, however, takes a different form for the standard target group if occupational health requires binding standards of a technical, architectural or organisational kind, e.g. a recent amendment of the German Workplace Regulation.

“Mental health” requirements are indeed at the top of the list when we look at stress in our modern, globally networked working environment – a world which is currently entering a new phase of far-reaching changes through digitisation, with Industry 4.0 as the key phrase. Today’s “burnt-out” individual is subject to communication overkill, continually under pressure to be creative and positive while also having to market and manage themselves perfectly; yet there are many indications that such a person is, as it were, a prototype that illustrates the negative impact of our modern working life (and habitat) on the individual.

According to the German Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (BAuA), 58% of around 20,000 respondents said that the main requirement in their jobs is to cope with multitasking, followed by pressure to perform (52%), repetitive operations (50%) and being interrupted (44%). Forms of pressure that are felt to be especially stressful by the working population are deadlines and pressure to perform (34% of respondents). One particular cause of stress is the continuous restructuring in people’s modern working environment. On the whole, however, respondents believe that the level of mental stress has remained almost unchanged since 2006.

Other areas of mental stress which continue to be significant are noise, hazardous substances and the lifting and carrying of heavy loads. Except for extreme physical strain and the risk of death, they have by no means diminished with any consistency, and in some areas they have even increased.

Occupational health and safety worldwide - Rana Plaza and its consequences

When we look at the situation on an international scale, depending on a country’s economic development, the main focus tends to be on traditional health and safety issues, particularly in the newly emerging industrialised countries. We may well be witnessing a “new era” for health and safety here. To put it in a nutshell, there seems to be a time before and after the Rana Plaza disaster.

Almost none of the many global health and safety catastrophes have been considered to be as scandalous as the incident at the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh. And this has triggered numerous remarkable activities throughout the world, including Germany. The Consolidated Action Plan for Sustainable Textiles, rolled out by the German Development Secretary, and an initiative called Good Work Worldwide, launched together with the German Employment Secretary, have the aim of ensuring effective measures to achieve sustainability and fair working conditions throughout the supply chain, to raise awareness of health and safety and to create the relevant structures. What is totally new at this level of quality is the interest taken in occupational health and safety issues by several important international economic organisations and forums (G7 and G 20).

The potential of preventive healthcare

The main driving force continues to be the ethical and political basis of occupational health and safety. However, compared with the situation about 30 years ago, health and safety now forms part of a different economic environment in Germany. There is good evidence today that in order to be economically sustainable and thus “healthy”, a company must have healthy, safe and ergonomic working conditions. The official figures certainly give us an idea about the magnitude of the potential in preventive healthcare.

In 2013 about 175,000 persons gave up work for medical reasons in Germany. According to a recent study, the cost of early retirement to society is over EUR 20 billion per year, of which about half appears to be caused by pressure at work.

With an average incapacity rate of 15.0 days per employee, Germany lost approximately 567.7 million days through sickness and ill health in 2013. Based on this incapacity volume, the Federal German Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that the nationwide loss of production totalled EUR 59 billion in 2013 and the loss of gross added value was EUR 103 billion.

Preventive healthcare today

As businesses, social insurers and policy makers want to remain innovative and competitive it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that the workforce remains healthy and efficient. Health and safety measures can reduce staff fluctuation and can also boost a company’s process and product quality and improve its image. They are essential requirements to sustain the motivation and creativity of the workforce. Effective and efficient preventative healthcare can ensure a sustained improvement of people’s quality of life, mobility and performance as well as a substantial reduction in the cost of sickness and in further costs associated with it.

Preventive healthcare therefore has considerable potential which must be exploited far more widely, especially against the background of our “ageing” European societies. This also determines the ongoing positive economic development of Germany, an aspect which impacts the companies themselves and indeed at an increasingly practical level. In the same way that a company ceased to be competitive if it has missed out on technological developments, it may well suffer similar consequences if it ignores demographic changes among the working population.

Set against this background, it is remarkable to see such a positive development in the employment of older people now. In 2012 those who were in employment in Germany aged 60 to 65 accounted for 48% – 3% more than the year before. The days seem to be over when a company’s workforce were “highly athletic” with almost nothing but young people in employment, particularly in production. Typically, large companies are now endeavouring to ensure that all their jobs – e.g. 20,000 (!) at Continental – are “demographically inclusive”. 30 years ago this would have been utopian.

Political decision makers, too, have become highly active in this area, for instance with a new Preventive Healthcare Act, and an inclusion policy, programmes to shape (and promote) the digital transformation and, in a wider sense, also with projects to roll out a minimum wage. Moreover, there is the challenge to develop the entire area of so-called “short-term economics” which has so far seen none of the positive general development described above.

The A+A Congress 2015

With this in mind, the A+A Congress will highlight the relevant central issues of preventive health and safety at work. It will start with a newly designed A+A opening event that includes a speech by the German Employment Secretary Andrea Nahles, the presentation of the German Health and Safety Award and a high-level debate between employers and trade unions.

Keynote talks

For the first time, each morning and afternoon at the A+A Congress 2015 will start with a keynote talk for all visitors, including:

• Humane Workplace Design – Productivity – Preventive Healthcare
Prof. Ralph Bruder, PhD, from the Institute of Ergonomics at the Technical University of Darmstadt, former President of the Society of Industrial Engineering (GfA) and member of the Council of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA)

• Good Health at Work – for a Healthier Future
Dame Carol M. Black, Director of Newnham College, Cambridge University, former President of the Royal College of Physicians, Chairperson of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, UK Government Advisor, whose publications include a report on the health of older workers in the UK

• Participation and Codetermination in Occupational Health and Safety
Ursula Engelen-Kefer, PhD, former Deputy Chairperson of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), representative of the DGB on a range of labour market committees and sociopolitical committees of the OECD, the EU and the ILO

• Technological Development and Risk Management
Prof. Ortwin Renn, PhD, Professor of Environmental Sociology and the Sociology of Technology, Dean of the Economic and Social Sciences Department and Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Research at the University of Stuttgart and Executive Board Member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering (Acatech)

• Demographics and Diversity in the Workplace
Prof. Jutta Rump, PhD, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Applied Sciences in Ludwigshafen, Director of the Institute for Employment and Employability, IBE Ludwigshafen, Board Member of the HR network Wege zur Selbst GmbH, Executive Board Member of the HR Alliance of the Advisory Board of DDN (Demographics Network)

Cross-disciplinary topics and events
The congress programme has a number of cross-disciplinary focal points that relate to the Common German Health and Safety Strategy (GDA) and to a preventive healthcare culture, the German Health and Preventative Healthcare Act, Industry 4.0, and issues of ergonomics, inclusion and preventive healthcare.

Health and safety strategy and preventative healthcare culture
The Common German Health and Safety Strategy (GDA) will be presenting its working programmes “Organisation of Health and Safety at Work”, “Musculoskeletal Strain,” and “Mental Health at Work”. Other events will be held on issues of risk assessment, health and safety management systems, safety engineering support and occupational healthcare. New focal points will be presented at events on a preventive healthcare culture, diversity, gender-sensitive health and safety and the removal of boundaries.

Focus on the German Preventive Healthcare Act

One particular emphasis in 2015 will be the current debate on Germany’s new Preventive Healthcare Act. The Act has an impact on the working environment and, above all, on the country’s statutory health insurance companies and collaboration with the relevant responsible bodies. There will be a status conference entitled “Workplace Health Promotion” (BGF) with a debate on the opportunities created by the Act for professional preventive healthcare and health promotion. Other topics will be drug abuse, occupational diseases, preventive occupational healthcare, health management at work and integration at work. As before, the issue of mental stress will be strongly represented again in 2015 and will include issues of risk assessment, methods and tools as well as practical examples and approaches in other European countries.

Industry 4.0 and ergonomics

The ergonomics events will include new projects and models developed by companies such as Conti (see above) as well as the ergonomics standardisation strategy. The Industry 4.0 event will largely be about workplace assistance systems that are of special relevance to health and safety. In addition there will be events on assembly work, state-of-the-art office design and working hours.

Inclusion and preventive healthcare

Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities initiated a process of inclusion which has had a major impact on the workplace. One major milestone is the accessibility plans and the action programme of the German Social Accident Insurance Association (DGUV). A joint event with the German Federal Association for Rehabilitation (BAR) will be about the issues of preventive healthcare and inclusion.

Up-to-date information

A major and indeed traditional feature on the A+A Congress programme will be events on specific hazards and strains:

• Working environment
(the German Workplace Regulation, noise, dusts, REACH, artificial optical radiation, electromagnetic fields and biological agents at work)

• Accident prevention, safety and fire protection
(new accident hazards, e.g. in man-robot collaboration, operational and product safety, machine safety, management systems and fire/explosion protection)

• Personal protection equipment
(PPE continues to be a major focus at this international convention, with two events on innovative PPE and its application and another event on rope protection.)

• Events for preventive healthcare activists
(Special events for large groups in occupational health and safety have long been firmly established. As before, 2015 will feature a Day for Safety Officers, a Day for Works Council and Staff Council Representatives, an Entrepreneurs’ Day and – for the first time – a Public Service Executives’ Meeting.)

A+A International
The international programme of the A+A Congress will largely feature the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Social Security Organisation (ISSA), the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the Dublin Foundation, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) as the A+A partner country in 2015, various international Occupational Health & Safety associations and 15 specialist events with interpreting between German and English. A separate prominent event will be dedicated to the Sustainable Textiles Alliance.

ILO-ISSA Conference
ILO and ISSA will be holding a joint programme with 4 sessions on a “Preventive Healthcare Culture Worldwide” (including the Seoul Declaration, measuring a preventive healthcare culture and preventive healthcare in the supply chain). “Health Promotion and Well-being” (including workplace inspections, well-being models in the workplace, healthy organisations, and health promotion in conjunction with preventive healthcare), “Vision Zero” (including accident prevention in especially risk-prone areas and in global supply chains) as well as “Reintegration and Particularly Endangered Groups of Workers” (including migrant workers, young and disabled workers, and reintegration models).

This year’s partner country: the Republic of Korea
The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is the A+A partner country in 2015. There will be an exhibitors’ seminar and also a panel discussion on health and safety protection against new risks, including chemicals.

Green Jobs
A separate event will be held on Green Jobs, under the auspices of the Dublin Foundation for Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), highlighting the special risks of workplaces from environmental impact and in alternative energy production.


Certification for occupational health and safety professionals in Europe
This workshop, held by the European Network of Safety and Health Professional Organisations (ENSHPO), will largely be about the European-wide recognition of certifications in preventative healthcare.

Transport and traffic, safety at construction sites
This all-day event will be about health and safety issues in traffic, transportation and logistics in Europe as well as on load safety. As on previous occasions, a workshop will be held by the International Safety and Health Construction Coordinators’ Organisation (ISHCCO).

Health & Safety Meeting Point
Over 100 members, national and international partners of the German Federal Association for Occupational Safety and Health (Basi), including associations, organisations, ministries, accident and health insurance companies and universities will be represented at the Health & Safety Meeting Point (TPSG), highlighting their projects, ideas and services at a joint pavilion of approx. 2,500 square metres, in collaboration with the German Social Accident Insurance Association (DGUV).

In their immediate vicinity there will be two exhibition areas, Workplace Design and Corporate Health, designated for ergonomic product and process manufacturers and organisations as well as for the health sector. The subjects will range from occupational medicine, through independent healthcare professionals to drug abuse prevention facilities. The two areas will have a joint platform programme with German-English interpreting. The Safety and Security Innovation Park will be in Hall 7a of the exhibition centre, with talks on hazardous substances, PPE and fire and disaster protection.

Bruno Zwingmann, Sankt Augustin, April 2015