New standards for occupational health and safety in times of corona

Even if protective measures are gradually scaled back due to the Corona pandemic, the virus remains and. The federal government had already announced guidelines on occupational health and safety ("SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety standard") in the summer.

In January 2021, it also added the SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety and Health Regulation (Corona-ArbSchV) to this in view of the "second wave". However, the new regulation is expected to come into force as early as 15. March 2021 again out of force.

1. What must my workplace be like?

All employees should keep sufficient distance (at least 1.5 meters) from other persons. Where this is not possible, alternative protective measures must be taken, such as Plexiglas partitions or similar.

In addition, employers must ensure that everyone who is on the premises can wash their hands thoroughly on a regular basis. He must not only allow his employees adequate time, but also provide sufficient washing facilities, skin-friendly liquid soap and towel dispensers or disinfectant dispensers in the vicinity of the workplaces.

Contacts between employees must be kept to a minimum. Therefore, the employer must arrange shift schedules in such a way that employees have as little contact with each other as possible. If direct contact between employees, customers or service providers cannot be avoided, the employer must provide suitable protective masks.

Office work is to be done primarily in the home office. Where this is not possible, multiple occupancy of rooms should be avoided.

2. What applies when it is necessary for several colleagues to work in the same room??

If it is necessary for several persons to use rooms at the same time, a minimum area of 10 square meters for each person in the room may not be undercut. However, according to the ordinance, this only applies "insofar as the activities to be carried out permit this.".

If they do not permit it, the employer must ensure the equivalent protection of the employees by "other suitable protective measures". These include ventilation measures and suitable partitions between the persons present.

3. Am I entitled to carry out my work in the home office?

The SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Regulation stipulates that employers must offer employees who perform office work or comparable activities the opportunity to perform their work in their own homes, if there are no compelling operational reasons to the contrary.

Employers are therefore required to offer home office. Employees should accept the offer if they can.

Disputes are likely to arise as to when "compelling operational reasons" are present. "Mandatory" is more than "urgent" in this context. The Ministry of Labor has announced that it will not tolerate "lazy excuses" from employers. Technical or organizational reasons, for example because the technical requirements are not met or because the employees concerned are not yet qualified, can at most be cited as a temporary reason for prevention.

However, the employer’s obligation to offer home office only applies as of now up to the 15th day of employment. March 2021.

4. Does the employer have to provide me with a mask?

The employer must provide FFP2 masks or comparable medical respirators if

  • He cannot provide suitable room conditions (see above)
  • the minimum distance of 1.5 meters cannot be maintained
  • the activities carried out are likely to pose a risk of increased aerosol emissions

The medical face masks must be worn up to and including 25. May 2021 comply with the requirements of the EU Medical Devices Directives. In particular, this means that they must be equipped with a so-called "CE marking".

5. I am on field duty together with colleagues. Are there guidelines for joint business trips??

Joint trips should be avoided. If several employees are traveling to a joint external appointment, the employer must ensure that they do not have to use a vehicle at the same time if possible. If several employees have to use a company vehicle, the number of users should be kept small, for example by assigning a vehicle to a defined team.

The interiors of company vehicles must be cleaned regularly, especially if they are used by several people.

Journeys for material procurement resp. Deliveries are to be reduced if possible, route planning is to be optimized accordingly.

For transportation and delivery services, route planning must take into account the ability to visit sanitary facilities in a timely manner because many public restrooms are currently closed due to the pandemic.

If off-site work must be performed in teams, the employer must ensure that the teams are as small as possible (2 to 3 persons). In addition, there should be fixed teams to reduce changing contacts during trips and work assignments outside the company premises.

6. How must break rooms and canteens be designed??

Sufficient distance (at least 1.5 meters) must be ensured between users, for example by not placing tables and chairs too close to each other. Care must be taken to avoid, as far as possible, queues for the return of food and crockery and at the cash desk. If necessary, canteen and meal serving times must be extended.

If canteens and break rooms cannot be reorganized to ensure sufficient safety distances, they should be closed down.

7. May work equipment and tools still be used by several employees?

It is not forbidden. However, the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety standard specifies that tools and work equipment are to be used by only one person if possible. If this is not possible, the tool or work equipment must always be cleaned before it is given to another person. In addition, employees should wear protective gloves if the work permits it.

8. Does my employer have to provide me with protective clothing??

If, due to the nature of the work, employees cannot avoid contact with other persons or cannot maintain protective distances of at least 1.5 meters, the employer must provide "mouth-to-nose coverings," i.e., protective masks. In particularly high-risk work areas, the employer must provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) and strictly instruct its use.

9. May the same work clothes be worn by more than one person?

A clear no. The SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety standard strictly stipulates that not only personal protective equipment (PPE), but all work clothing may only be worn by one and the same person.

10. How work clothing and personal protective equipment must be stored in the facility?

Work clothes and personal protective equipment must be kept separate from everyday clothing.

If it can be ruled out that additional risks of infection and/or hygiene deficiencies will arise and at the same time internal personal contacts can be avoided, the employer should allow you to put on and take off your work clothes at home.

11. Can the employer send me home if I have a cough and a fever??

He must even. If you show the typical signs of a Corona infection, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, you must leave company premises immediately and return to your home. They must immediately contact their attending physician or the health department by telephone.
Until a doctor determines that you are not infected with the virus, you are considered unfit for work.

12. Does my employer have to inform me if I have had contact with a colleague who is suspected of being infected??

The SARS-CoV-2 occupational health standard requires employers to establish a procedure for clearing suspected cases. Make arrangements in a company pandemic plan to identify and inform those persons (employees and, where possible, customers) who are also at risk of infection through contact with the infected person in the event of confirmed infection.

13. What can I do if the employer violates the obligations imposed by the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety standard??

The employer is obliged to take the necessary occupational health and safety measures, taking into account the circumstances that affect the safety and health of employees at work (Section 3 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act). If the employer violates this obligation, you as an employee have various legal options. You can report the employer to the health department or the factory inspectorate, or you could sue them in labor court.

If the work poses a significant objective risk to you, or if there is at least a serious and objectively justified suspicion that you will be endangered in your life or health by the work, you have the option of refusing to perform work.

If the employer does not take appropriate protective measures or even allows suspected cases to continue in the company, the employee has a right of retention because his health is seriously endangered. He must then stay away from the company until the employer has taken appropriate measures.
However, you must expressly declare to the employer that you will refuse to work because of the health risk until the employer has taken suitable protective measures.

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