Health and safety obligations in relation to different types of activity, including risk prevention, information and training
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Health and safety obligations in relation to different types of activity, including risk prevention, information and training
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.
Important cornerstones of occupational health and safety legislation are the German Working Conditions Act [ Arbeitsschutzgesetz ] and the German Occupational Safety Act [ Arbeitssicherheitsgesetz ]. In accordance with the Working Conditions Act, employers must perform an assessment of health risks in the workplace and take the necessary protection measures. The Occupational Safety Act sets out the obligations of employers with regard to the appointment of in-house doctors and occupational safety officers. Working Conditions Decrees have been adopted on the basis of the Working Conditions Act that set out the obligations of employers and in-house doctors in more detail.
Working Conditions Act
The following basic obligations apply to employers:
Occupational health and safety system
Employers must ensure there is a functioning occupational health and safety system in place in the company. This means they are responsible for incorporating occupational health and safety into operational processes and for ensuring that suitable contact persons are appointed within the company to monitor compliance with occupational health and safety requirements by the employer, members of the management team and individuals under their instruction. The Occupational Safety Act contains provisions on the assistance to be provided by specialist occupational safety officers and in-house doctors (see below).
Employers must carry out a risk assessment. This means they must assess the working conditions in their company from an occupational health and safety perspective. The risk assessment allows employers to gain a clear overview of the risks present so that they can then take the correct protection measures. This procedure necessarily depends on the type and size of the business in question and the relevant risk factors (e.g. workplace-related, equipment-related and activity-related risks). Employers must also take account of psychological stress factors when assessing occupational health and safety risks. Once the risk factors have been identified, the risk assessment procedure involves determining the appropriate and necessary protection measures. These may be on a technical, organisational (situational prevention) or personal (behavioural prevention) level. Situational prevention measures take priority. In addition, the employer must identify particular risks for groups of employees eligible for special protection (e.g. young people and employees with disabilities). When implementing occupational health and safety measures, employers have some leeway to take account of the nature of the company. The effectiveness of the protection measures must be assessed and adapted to new circumstances where necessary. In order to help employers perform the risk assessment, sector and activity-specific guidebooks are available on how to assess potential risk factors and determine what protection measures should be taken.
Employers must document the results of the risk assessment and the necessary occupational health and safety measures taken. This applies to all companies, regardless of their size. SMEs with ten employees or fewer are subject to reduced documentation requirements ( Annex 3, in German).
Preventative occupational medicine
Employers have an obligation to allow employees to undergo regular preventative occupational health checks depending on the level of risk associated with their activities. These serve to assess the individual effects of their work on their physical/mental health (information and consultation) as well as to ensure early identification and prevention of occupational illnesses and allow employees to continue working for as long as possible. 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 information below on the German Decree on Preventative Occupational Medicine [ Verordnung zur arbeitsmedizinischen Vorsorge ]). Employers may not charge employees for the cost of preventative occupational healthcare.
Employers must provide training to employees so that they are able to recognise and respond appropriately to accident and health risks. Such training must be precisely tailored to the working conditions in the company in question. Some of the Working Conditions Decrees (e.g. on hazardous substances and biological substances) specify that this training must include a general occupational health consultation.
Special risks and emergency measures
Employers must ensure that only employees with the correct training are able to enter particularly dangerous work areas. In addition, they must specify special protection measures for employees who are or could be exposed to an immediate and significant risk. Moreover, they are obliged to implement the necessary measures regarding first aid, firefighting and evacuation in case of emergencies.
Accident reporting (IVa4)
Employers must inform the relevant statutory accident insurer and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority of any accidents that occur within the company involving its employees if those employees are either killed or injured to such an extent that they are unable to work for more than three days.
Working Conditions Decrees
The Working Conditions Act is supplemented by a number of Working Conditions Decrees that set out specific rules for certain risks in the workplace.
The Workstations Decree contains rules for employers on the layout and functioning of workstations and on working with screens.
Operational Safety Decree
The Operational Safety Decree contains occupational health and safety rules for the use of equipment. It provides employers with a comprehensive protection plan for all risks in relation to equipment.
Hazardous Substances Decree
The Hazardous Substances Decree sets out working conditions requirements for employees working with hazardous substances, or for employees performing tasks which result in the creation or release of hazardous substances.
Biological Substances Decree
The Biological Substances Decree makes it mandatory for employers to take the necessary protection measures for employees performing tasks during which biological substances are created, used or released.
Preventative Occupational Medicine Decree
This decree contains rules for employers and in-house doctors on preventative occupational medicine (see above). It also provides further information on the tasks of occupational medicine practitioners under the Occupational Safety Act (see below).
Decree on Health and Safety When Using Personal Protective Equipment at Work
This decree sets out specific details regarding the requirements of the Working Conditions Act in cases where employers provide their employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to protect them against a risk to their health and safety at work.
Decree on the Protection of Employees against Risks Related to Noise and Vibrations
This decree introduces an obligation for employers to take the necessary measures to prevent any harm to the health of employees exposed to noise or vibrations.
Decree on the Protection of Employees against Risks Related to Artificial Optical Radiation
This decree sets out requirements for employers regarding the protection of employees against artificial optical radiation (e.g. laser devices) that may be harmful to their health.
Decree on the Protection of Employees against Risks Related to Electromagnetic Fields
This decree sets out requirements on the protection of employees against risks to their health and safety in the workplace as a result of the effects of electromagnetic fields.
Load Handling Decree
This decree sets out an obligation for employers to implement protection measures in connection with the carrying and lifting of loads that, as a result of their weight or other properties, may pose a risk to the health of employees, in particular a risk of lower back injury.
Construction Site Decree
The Construction Site Decree contains requirements regarding the health and safety of employees on construction sites. Unlike other working conditions legislation, this decree is targeted specifically at developers. As the contractor of the construction work, the developer is obliged to take coordination measures. This is primarily intended to enable the implementation of measures to avoid site-wide risks and the allocation of the corresponding responsibilities.
Occupational Safety Act
In accordance with the Occupational Safety Act, employers must appoint in-house doctors and occupational safety officers to advise and assist them with respect to occupational health and safety and accident prevention, for example during performance of the risk assessment. In-house doctors and occupational safety officers have an obligation to cooperate. In matters relating to the practice of their professional tasks, they are not subject to instruction from the employer.
The rules set out in the Occupational Safety ActOpens in new window are clarified in more detail in the accident prevention regulation In-House Doctors and Occupational Safety Officers [Betriebsärzte und Fachkräfte für Arbeitssicherheit DGUV-Vorschrift 2] adopted by the statutory accident insurance funds.
The statutory accident insurance funds have a prevention mandate which means that they must use all suitable means to ensure the prevention of accidents at work, work-related health risks and occupational illnesses. In order to achieve this goal, they have the authority to clarify or supplement working conditions legislation adopted at national level by way of separate, sectoral accident prevention regulations. The legal basis for this is the German Social Code, Part VII.
The occupational health and safety authorities in the federal states [ Länder ] are responsible for inspecting companies in order to monitor compliance with working conditions law and take measures where necessary to ensure that compliance. The federal states coordinate their administrative actions in the Commission for Occupational Safety and Safety Engineering of the Federal States [ Länderausschuss für Arbeitsschutz und Sicherheitstechnik LASI].
The accident insurance funds also monitor compliance with occupational health and safety rules in companies on the basis of their prevention mandate in accordance with the German Social Code, Part VII. In particular, they monitor compliance with the accident prevention regulations they themselves have introduced.
The federal states and accident insurance funds, as well as the national government in its role as legislator, work together under the Joint German Occupational Health and Safety Strategy [ Gemeinsamen Deutschen Arbeitsschutzstrategie GDA] to optimise working conditions in order to ensure the health and safety of employees. A key element of the strategy is the obligation of all parties to identify common occupational health and safety objectives and fields of action. Those responsible for implementing the GDA are obliged to align their activities with a set of common principles and implement them by way of coordinated programmes.
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 for them.
The Occupational Health and Safety Authorities in the individual federal states are responsible for monitoring compliance with the Working Time Act and the Act on the Protection of Young People at Work. Employees are entitled to file a complaint with these authorities in the case of problems within their company. They can do so via the online portals of the federal states ( e.g. Ministerium für Arbeit, Gesundheit und Soziales des Landes Nordrhein-WestfalenOpens in new window , in German).
Information/publications about occupational health and safety
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Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
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