Current Occupational Health and Safety Standards in the Corona Crisis?
On 16 April 2020, German Minister Hubertus Heil and Dr Stefan Hussy, Managing Director of the German Social Accident Insurance, jointly presented measures for a uniform occupational health and safety standard for the period of the corona pandemic (see the Ministry's communication). If you, as an employer or personnel manager, have hoped to gain knowledge or make a real contribution to more safety, you will be disappointed after reviewing the issues presented. The explanations do in no way bring any real gain in knowledge and show that employers, works councils and employees must each take care of the most appropriate and sensible measures in the fight against corona on site. The factual and legal situation must be constantly reviewed and the measures must be continuously adapted to the current situation.
First of all, two general principles are being presented, which should come as no surprise:
- In the future, regardless of the respective concepts of action, mouth-nose covers should be made available in a company in any case if the required minimum distance cannot be maintained in everyday business. Whether and how quickly companies will be able to obtain these covers is, of course, an open question and is not discussed in the paper. However, the principle fits in with the general turnaround on the subject of compulsory masks.
- In addition, all persons with respiratory symptoms or fever should stay away from work and must be sent home by the employer. In most companies in the country, though, this practice has probably been in place for at least one month anyway. In order to better detect diseases, measures for contactless fever measurement should be taken in the company.
In the further details, the elaboration unfortunately remains vague and undefined. The usual references to the minimum distance to be maintained, increased hygiene and disinfection measures, adapted shift systems, activities in the home office, no multiple occupancy of rooms and the renunciation of business trips and appointments with many participants should not surprise most employers. And it should also be pointed out that companies were already obliged to take protective measures in the workplace even before the paper was published. This already ensues from the general statutory provisions.
So what remains after reading the paper for employers, managing directors and personnel managers? The conviction that those involved on site, i.e. employers, employees, works councils, company doctors and occupational safety experts, must think intensively about the form pandemic prevention should take in the event of a gradual economic recovery. It must be decided at the workplace and on the basis of operational processes which technical, organisational or personal protective measures are necessary to protect the health of employees and to be able to safely control the company in the fight against the virus. Of course, special attention must also be paid to the frequently mentioned risk groups (older employees, employees with previous illnesses and pregnant women, even though they are probably not a classic corona risk group). When drawing up the company corona action plan, the participation rights of the works council must then again be taken into account. To avoid lengthy decision-making processes, consideration should therefore be given no later than now to setting up a crisis management team in the company. To this end, it must be examined how a crisis team should be staffed and for which topics the works council can for instance form committees so that not always the entire team has to meet. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of binding regulations on digital works council work although initial efforts were made even before Easter. Needless to say, active and regular communication and information for employees is still of utmost importance. Employees must know what measures are currently being taken and what further steps are planned. Experience shows that measures that are jointly supported by the employer and the works council also increase acceptance among the workforce.
Note: This contribution has been published in a similar form at Beck-online.