The issue of occupational safety is important in every company – no matter how big or small. A whole host of regulations and rules must be observed. That’s why optimal planning of the occupational safety organisation is required, to ensure maximum safety for all employees and minimise the risk of accidents at work. In this blog post, we explain what exactly is specified in the German Occupational Safety and Health Act and what you must observe and comply with when organising occupational safety in your company.

What is occupational safety?

Measures and methods that ensure the protection of employees against work-related health and safety hazards. The aim of occupational safety is to ensure safety at work and protect the health of the employees.

What is the occupational safety organisation?

The occupational safety organisation covers all measures that are implemented in accordance with the regulations on occupational health and safety. This is particularly important in large companies, as different roles must be assigned to ensure sustainable integration of occupational safety measures into all workflows and departments of the company. This includes an occupational physician, safety experts, a fire protection officer and, depending on the size of the company, further persons whose responsibilities and activities must be coordinated through the occupational safety organisation. For companies with more than 20 employees, §11 of the German Occupational Safety Act (Arbeitssicherheitsgesetz, ASiG) states that an occupational safety and health committee must be formed. This committee implements the risk assessment according to §§5 and 6 of the German Occupational Safety and Health Act (Arbeitsschutzgesetz, ArbSchG), for example. Every employer is responsible for the organisation of occupational safety and for ensuring that it is implemented properly in accordance with the legal requirements.

German Occupational Safety and Health Act – The rules and obligations for you as an employer

As already outlined in our blog post on the issue of “Avoiding accidents at work”, there are around 850,000 work-related accidents in Germany every year. If all companies – including small companies – were to comply with the German Occupational Safety and Health Act, the number of accidents at work would fall significantly. Of course, accidents can also happen in protected environments, but with correct organisation of occupational safety, the risk of an accident at work should be minimised.

But what exactly does the German Occupational Safety and Health Act say? Which obligations and rules must you as an employer observe?

The German Occupational Safety and Health Act (Arbeitsschutzgesetz, ArbSchG) is split into five sections:

  1. General provisions
  2. Obligations on employers
  3. Obligations on and rights of employees
  4. Authorisations to issue statutory instruments
  5. Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy
  6. Concluding provisions

General provisions

This section contains definitions – including who is deemed to be an employee in the meaning of this law. These are:

  • Employees
  • Apprentices
  • Persons comparable to employees within the meaning of § 5(1) of the Labour Courts Act (Arbeitsgerichtsgesetz, ArbGG) excluding persons employed in homework and those equal in law to them
  • Civil servants
  • Judges
  • Soldiers
  • Those employed in workshops for the disabled

In addition, it states that you can designate yourself as an employer if you employ the above-mentioned persons as a natural or legal person or a partnership with legal personality.

Obligations on employers

As an employer, you must observe basic obligations under the German Occupational Safety and Health Act:

  • Take the necessary measures under the German Occupational Safety and Health Act with regard to the health and safety of your employees. These must be checked for effectiveness and adapted if necessary. The focus should be on improving the health and safety of the employees
  • Provide occupational safety organisation and the required means
  • The employer bears the costs for implementing the measures

In addition, the measures of the German Occupational Safety and Health Act must meet the following principles:

  • The work must be designed such that it does not pose a risk to physical or mental health
  • The state of the art, occupational medicine and hygiene must be taken into account
  • Linking of technology, labour organisation, work conditions, social relations and environmental influences
  • Taking into account hazards for employee groups with a particular requirement for protection
  • Providing employees with instructions
  • Gender-specific regulations are only permissible if these are absolutely necessary for biological reasons

In a further sub-section, the work conditions are assessed, because employee safety can be impaired through a variety of hazards at the work place – e.g. physical, chemical, biological impacts, handling of work equipment, work materials, machines, inadequate qualification or instruction, design and set-up of the work place and mental strain.

In addition, the employer’s obligations in relation to documentation, transfer of tasks, collaboration between several employers, particular hazards, first aid, occupational medical health care, instruction and responsible persons are also explained. That’s because, in addition to the employer, there are a number of other people who are responsible for compliance with the German Occupational Safety and Health Act:

  • Legal representative of the employer
  • The representative authority of a legal person
  • The representative shareholder of a commercial partnership
  • Company management

Obligations on and rights of employees

The employees themselves are also obligated to ensure their health and safety, and comply with the rules set by the employer. Defects or hazards that are noticed by employees, must be reported immediately to their supervisor so that measures can be taken to eliminate or minimise the hazard. In addition, employees are entitled to make their own suggestions for the implementation of occupational safety in the company.

Authorisations to issue statutory instruments

The Federal Government is authorised to stipulate by way of statutory instrument requiring the consent of the Bundesrat, occupational safety measures to be taken by a company. These statutory instruments can determine the following, for example:

  • That the duration or place of employment or the number of workers must be changed to avert certain risks
  • That the use of certain work equipment or procedures is prohibited
  • That hazardous operating systems must be checked by an expert
  • That employees are provided with information when this is required for health and safety reasons
  • That employees are given preventive medical check-ups before performing certain tasks
  • That committees are established that are responsible for advising the Federal Government on its statutory instruments

In the case of an epidemic situation of national significance, as per § 5(1) of the German Protection against Infection Act, the Federal Government may also issue special statutory instruments not requiring the consent of the Bundesrat.

Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy

With the help of a joint occupational safety strategy, health and safety in the workplace should be guaranteed throughout Germany. This includes common occupational safety objectives, fields of action, the evaluation of these and the definition of a specific procedure by state authorities and accident insurers, who are responsible for occupational safety in companies. The result of this is a body of rules and regulations, which is comprehensible and clear. At the National Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the German occupational safety strategy is discussed and optimised each year.

Concluding provisions

The final section of the German Occupational Safety and Health Act explains important information about the responsible authorities, monetary fine regulations and penal provisions. Because if you do not observe the German Occupational Safety and Health Act, you could face a fine or a prison term of up to one year.


Workflow of the occupational safety organisation in the company

Every occupational safety organisation is primarily focused on the business: How many employees are there and what are the operating conditions? The risk assessment is crucial in determining all required measures. During this, all departments and work areas are investigated for potential hazards and corresponding safety measures are defined. In addition to work equipment, workplace and activity-related risks, the factors affecting mental strain are also taken into account in the risk assessment. The occupational safety measures can therefore differ completely from workplace to workplace and can change at any time due to structural changes, new devices and machinery or other circumstances. Therefore, regular checks are required to ensure that the protection measures are still effective and can be implemented by the employees. Extensive instruction of the employees is absolutely required to ensure the required level of safety.

When organising occupational safety in your company, you can also use the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (GDA) as a guide. This includes the handy self-assessment tool GDA-ORGA-Check. Using this tool, the GDA guideline “Organisation of safety at work” is provided in a comprehensible and easy to process version. This will help you to answer important questions like “How is occupational safety taken into account in business planning and procurement processes?” or “Is it possible to involve external companies in the workflows?” one after the other via the GDA-ORGA-Check. The tool also covers the subject of occupational medical care (ArbmedVV).

To optimise your occupational safety organisation, it is worth introducing an occupational safety management system (AMS). This will support you with anchoring health and safety protection in your management structures and workflows. Many different AMS products are available on the market – You can find out which of these best suits your company and your requirements using the national guideline for occupational safety management systems.

Official workplace requirements

  1. Movement area: At least 1.5 m2 – Single workstation: 1 x 1 m, Group workstation: 1.2 x 1 m
  2. Workroom height:
    • Up to 50 m2: 2.5 m
    • 50–100 m2: 2.75 m
    • 100 – 2,000 m2: 3 m
    • Greater than 2,000 m2: 3.12 m
  3. Escape routes: 35 m – in rooms at risk of explosion max. 10 m
  4. Working temperature: 26°C
  5. Break room: 1 m2 per employee and max. 5 minutes away
    à In businesses with fewer than 10 employees and if third persons are not granted access to the work area, no break room is required!
  6. Toilet:
    • Distance to toilet: max. 100 m – Recommendation: max. 50 m
    • Height of partition walls and doors: min. 1.9 m
    • Temperature during use: min. 21°C
    • Brightness of lighting: min. 200 lux
  7. VDU workstation:
    • Angle between the max. top line of the screen and the keyboard: 35°
    • Angle between centre of screen and max. height of the top line on the screen: 60°
    • Desk size: min. 1.2 m2 – Size of desk top: 1.60 x 0.80 m; Size of footprint: 0.85 x 1 m

How do you organise occupational safety in your company? Tell us whether you have already worked with GDA-ORGA-Check and whether you use an occupational safety management system. If yes, which one? And would you recommend it?




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