Health and safety obligations in relation to different types of activity
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Information about Rights & Duties
Health and safety obligations in relation to different types of activity
The legislation on working conditions serves to ensure the health and safety of employees at work by preventing occupational accidents and work-related health risks. It also includes measures to ensure humane working conditions. This legislation covers all areas of activity, i.e. both private and public service employment.
Working Conditions Act and Working Conditions Decrees
An important cornerstone of the German legislation on working conditions is the Working Conditions Act [ Arbeitsschutzgesetz ]. The Working Conditions Act not only governs occupational health and safety obligations on the part of employers, but also the rights and obligations of employees when it comes to health and safety at work. The Working Conditions Act is supplemented by a number of Working Conditions Decrees that set out specific rules for certain risks in the workplace. In addition, accident insurers have a prevention mandate that gives them the power to implement and supplement the working conditions legislation adopted at national level by imposing accident prevention regulations . (Link to Q1)
Employees must do everything in their power to ensure health and safety in the workplace and must observe the training and instructions provided by their employer, for example by using the prescribed personal protective equipment (PPE). They must also ensure the health and safety of other individuals in the workplace who may be affected by their actions, such as their colleagues.
Employees must use all equipment, such as tools, means of transport or any PPE provided, in accordance with their intended use, i.e. in line with the instructions provided by their employer.
Providing support to employers
Employees must help their employer ensure health and safety in the workplace. They must inform their employer or superior if they have legitimate grounds to suspect there is an immediate and significant risk to health and safety. This also applies in the case of faulty protective devices, e.g. failure or malfunction of protective devices on machines. Employees should also report the risks they have identified to the occupational safety officers appointed in accordance with the German Occupational Safety Act [ Arbeitssicherheitsgesetz ] and in-house doctors, or to the safety officers appointed in accordance with the German Social Code, Part VII [ Sozialgesetzbuch VII ].
Special risks and emergency measures
In the case of an immediate and significant risk, employees are entitled to leave the workplace without delay in order to get to safety, e.g. in the case of fires or explosions (right of departure). They must be able to do so without this negatively affecting their employment situation, for example their employer may not use this as grounds to dismiss them.
Preventative occupational medicine
Employees are entitled to request an individual occupational health consultation and examination. In the case of certain risks in the workplace, employers must actively offer employees preventative occupational healthcare, e.g. for employees working with screens. If the risks are particularly high, it is obligatory for precautions to be taken, e.g. for employees working with biological substances (see the German Decree on Preventative Occupational Medicine [ Verordnung zur arbeitsmedizinischen Vorsorge ]). Information, consultations and, where necessary, examinations are provided in a private space in which only the employee and in-house doctor are present. Employers will be informed of any deficiencies in their occupational safety measures, but will not be informed, for example, about any diagnoses. Employers may not charge employees for the cost of preventative occupational healthcare.
Right to make proposals
Employees are entitled to make proposals regarding all issues in connection with occupational health and safety.
Right to file a complaint
Employees have the right to contact the competent occupational health and safety authority if they have tangible evidence that the measures taken and the equipment provided by their employer are not sufficient to ensure health and safety in the workplace. Employees must first file a complaint with their employer in order to allow them an opportunity to remedy the problem themselves before involving external bodies. During this prior in-house complaints procedure, the employer must determine whether the measures they have taken and the equipment they have provided meet the requirements or not. There is no need for a prior complaint to be filed if there are legitimate grounds to suspect that it is unlikely that the situation will be remedied internally. Employees who file a complaint must be able to do so without this negatively affecting their employment situation; in particular, they may not be dismissed by their employer as a result of filing a complaint.
Working Hours Act
The German Working Hours Act [ Arbeitszeitgesetz ] protects the health of employees by limiting the maximum number of working hours per day as well as by stipulating minimum break periods during work and minimum rest periods after work. This law also includes conditions for agreeing flexitime arrangements. Night workers are subject to special protection. There is a general ban on working on Sundays and public holidays. Employees may only work on these days in exceptional cases.
Act on the Protection of Young People at Work
The German Act on the Protection of Young People at Work [ Jugendarbeitsschutzgesetz ] protects young people under the age of 18, regardless of whether they are employed as trainees or employees. The law generally prohibits the employment of children, i.e. young people under the age of 15, as well as of other individuals subject to mandatory full-time schooling. Protecting the health and safety of children and young people at work is even more important than it is for adults as they are less resilient and should therefore not be exposed to the same stresses. The Act on the Protection of Young People at Work and the Decree on the Protection of Children at Work [ Kinderarbeitsschutzverordnung ] therefore protect children and young people from doing jobs that start too early, involve overly long hours, are too difficult, put them at risk or are unsuitable.
The Occupational Health and Safety Authorities in the individual federal states [ Länder ] are responsible for monitoring compliance with occupational health and safety legislation. Employees are entitled to file a complaint with these authorities if they believe that the health and safety measures in their place of work are insufficient. They can do so via the online portals of the federal states (e.g. https://www.mags.nrw/ansprechpartner-und-beratung-zum-arbeitsschutz-nrwOpens in new window ).
Information/publications about occupational health and safety
https://www.bmas.de/SiteGlobals/Forms/Suche/Publikationen_Suche_Formular.html?showNoDocType=true&resourceId=76708&submit=Senden&input_=70820&pageLocale=de&documentType_=pbbook&templateQueryString=ArbeitsschutzOpens in new window
Occupational Health and Safety Authorities in the federal states
Prevention mandate of accident insurers
Responsible for the content
Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
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