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SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety Rule Issued

The SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety Rule specifies the requirements for occupational safety for the period of the epidemic situation of national importance in accordance with Section 5 of the Protection against Infection Act. It has been issued by the occupational safety committees at the Federal Ministry of Labour (BMAS) in coordination with the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), Dortmund/Germany.

Authors/Autoren: Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin (BAuA), Dortmund, und Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e. V. (DGUV), Berlin

The SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety Rule introduces measures aimed at reducing the risk of infection for employees and limiting the risk to a low level in all areas of business. Distancing, hygiene and masks remain the most important instruments. Companies that implement the technical, organisational and personal protection measures proposed in the SARS-CoV-2 rule can assume that their actions are in compliance with legal requirements. In addition, the supervisory authorities of the German states receive a standard that can be used to assess the protective measures in the facilities.

The occupational safety regulations can be found on the website of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), Dortumund/Germany, at www.baua.de/SARS-CoV-2-Arbeitsschutzregel.

“A guide to safe and healthy work”

In an interview, Marcus Hussing, prevention expert at the German Statutory Accident Insurance (DGUV), Berlin, explains the structural elements.

BAuA: The Federal Ministry of Labour (BMAS) is issuing a supplementary occupational safety rule that builds on the SARS-CoV-2 occupational safety standard. What significance does it have?

Marcus Hussing: The SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety Rule is a concrete expression of the occupational safety standard and strengthens its binding nature as a legal provision. In conjunction with the industry-specific guidelines of the Accident Insurance, the competent officers in companies, institutions and administrations now have a guideline for the organisation of safe and healthy work conditions during the epidemic.

BAuA: So the guidance provided by the professional associations and accident insurance funds are not being replaced by the Occupational Safety Rule?

Hussing: No, not at all. The accident insurance institutions have adapted the Sars-CoV-2 occupational safety standard of the BMAS for their specific sectors. The recommendations are based on the same considerations, but they have been specifically tailored to the needs of the companies. Protective measures in a hairdressing salon must necessarily differ from those in retail outlets or on the factory floor. For companies, these recommendations are a kind of toolbox with which they can ensure safe and healthy work during the epidemic.

The key to using this toolbox is the risk assessment. It is -legally binding for every company. This means that all employers must think about how they can protect their employees against coronavirus infection in the workplace and they must take appropriate measures to ensure this protection. The guidelines of the professional associations and accident insurance funds illustrate the forms these measures might take. In comparison, the Occupational Safety Rule provides a rather general framework.

BAuA: In addition to the new rule and the sector-specific guidelines, there are the infection protection regulations of the German states. What is their relationship to occupational safety?

Hussing: The German states have issued their regulations in implementation of the Federal Protection Against Infection Act. By their nature, these regulations have an impact on occupational safety and affect employees as well. The regulations of the German states have directly binding force.

BAuA: Does that mean that companies are confronted with two different areas of law here – occupational safety and health?

Hussing: Yes, that’s right. Unfortunately, this can also lead to confusion for companies and institutions. They are faced with the issues of determining what provisions are actually binding on them and what guidelines they can use for orientation. We can do little more than refer repeatedly to the risk assessment and the support we offer. If our recommendations should actually collide with the requirements of the health authorities, I recommend notifying the competent accident insurance institution. This epidemic has shown how important it is to speak with one voice. That’s not easy in a federal state. But having guidelines that are binding and as unambiguous as possible is important for anyone who has to apply the law and implement recommendations. The Statutory Accident Insurance would like to see more extensive cooperation with the German states as well. We have the required expertise in occupational safety and can make it available quickly as appropriate to any specific situation. We have demonstrated what we can do by issuing the supplementary guidelines to action on the SARS-CoV-2 occupational safety standard.