Comments by the German Social Accident Insurance on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

Source: © muratart -

How is the German Social Accident Insurance affected by a transatlantic trade and investment partnership? Why did it publish comments of its own on the TTIP, as early as March 2014?

Although this may not be immediately apparent, the terms of the partnership agreement overlap the responsibilities of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions in some ways. These institutions therefore took the opportunity at an early stage to contribute their expertise in areas such as product safety and standardization, occupational safety and health, and public services to the discussion of the TTIP.

The German Social Accident Insurance Institutions welcome the negotiations of a TTIP. Simplified trade regulations for European companies and consequently a potential boost to employment in Europe are in the interests of companies and their employees alike. At the same time, the interim results of negotiations suggest that adverse effects may also be expected. The German Social Accident Insurance Institutions draw attention to this possibility in three publications.

1. The position paper entitled "Comments (PDF, 1.7 MB) by the statutory accident insurance institutions in Germany on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the USA" provides a summary of the potential hazards to occupational safety and health presented by the TTIP, and how they could be avoided.

2. The German Social Accident Insurance has also contributed at European level to the "European Social Insurance Platform" (ESIP) formulating a common position on the TTIP. ESIP represents over 40 national social insurance institutions in 16 EU Member States and Switzerland. The umbrella association of Germany's statutory accident insurance institutions, the DGUV, is a member of ESIP.

3. In the paper entitled "Technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment methods: the issue of mutual recognition" (PDF, 1.6 MB), experts from a number of European accident insurance and standards organizations illustrate the differences between the respective safety philosophies in Europe and the USA with reference to specific examples, and explain the resulting problems.

The most important points of the position paper in brief:

Occupational safety and health

EU-wide and national occupational safety and health provisions should not be up for negotiation, nor should they constitute grounds for appeals to a tribunal. TTIP must not lead to occupational safety and health standards in Europe being lowered or to social insurance being privatized.

Social services

Provisions governing public procurement and public services should not impact upon how countries organize their own affairs and their social insurance services. Specifically, competition must arise neither between the systems, nor between services delivered within social insurance systems. In view of this, the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions call for social insurance and the associated services to be excluded unequivocally from the scope of the TTIP. Social services must not be "tradable goods".

Product safety and standardization

Safe and healthy products and workplaces are crucial to the avoidance of occupational accidents and diseases. The TTIP negotiations are intended to bring about further convergence between the EU and the USA in the areas of statutory regulations, technical standards, and conformity assessment procedures. The view of the German Social Accident Insurance is that the formulation of common principles and the harmonization of standards and conformity assessment procedures are essential for this purpose; that mutual recognition is however not conducive to this objective (refer to the paragraph below headed "Differences in safety philosophies") and could instead lead to a deterioration in the standard of safety and health at work.

Differences in safety philosophies: two examples

1. Respiratory masks

In the EU, respiratory masks serving as life-saving personal protective equipment must be tested by a notified body before being placed on the market. This includes testing of the mask's leaktightness. Users rely upon these third-party tests having been passed.

In the USA, such third-party testing is not mandatory; instead, companies are obliged by OSH regulations to check the leaktightness of respiratory masks each time before use. Safe use of the masks can be assured by either approach. However, if masks from the USA were to be placed on the market in the EU without the performance of third-party testing and users were to have no way of knowing that third-party testing of the leaktightness had not been performed, the consequences could be fatal.

2. Safety marking

For liability reasons, every possible situation must always be indicated in the USA as it is manifested in a particular case. Since a duty to provide instruction does not exist in the USA, signs must often serve as a substitute. The result is a plethora of different signs geared to the applicable situations. Mandatory and prohibitory signs are often combined within a single sign.

By contrast, the view of the EU is that a more general sign enhances recognizability and therefore also safety. The principle of separation of mandatory and prohibitory signs is strictly followed. Mandatory signs are marked blue, prohibitory signs red. Nach Auffassung der Europäer wird damit erreicht, dass Zeichen auch unbewusst als Gebot bzw. Verbot erkannt werden können. This further avoids a bewildering and inconsistent plethora of signs.

For valid reasons, different philosophies for safety markings have therefore been adopted on each side of the Atlantic. The respective philosophy must however be applied consistently. Mutual recognition of safety signs from the opposing system is not possible, since the signs pursue different objectives in each case.