In light of the continuously tense situation in the health care system due to the Covid-19 pandemic and steadily high infection figures, the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has issued an ordinance on occupational health and safety (“SARS-CoV-2 Arbeitsschutzverordnung“, SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance) which will become effective on 27 January 2021.
Issue and Goal of the Ordinance
The ordinance pursues the purpose to minimize the risk of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the working environment and to protect the health and safety of employees. The measures are considered to be a contribution to the health protection of employees since in most other areas of life contact restrictions and infection control measures have been largely exhausted. Also, the ordinance is intended to help maintain the economic activity of local businesses as far and as long as possible.
Details on the Ordinance’s Regulations
The new ordinance provides for an approach from two directions: On the one hand, measures are taken in order to reduce operationally related personal contacts in the working environment. On the other hand, where attendance in the working place is necessary, implementing protective measures like wearing face-masks is obligatory. In detail:
The measures include, among other things, the employer’s obligation to provide the possibility of home working and to reduce the number of people in contact with each other in the workplace. Home working must be offered for employees who do office work or comparable work, unless there are compelling operational reasons to the contrary. Personal contact between employees in the workplace is intended to be reduced by limiting the opportunities for encounters. e.g., the simultaneous use of rooms by several people must be reduced to the minimum necessary for operation. If such simultaneous use of rooms is required, each person must have a minimum area of 10 square meters for themselves, insofar as the respective activities to be carried out permit this. Otherwise other suitable protection measures have to be taken (e.g., partitioning between the persons present). Furthermore, the use of information technology shall replace company-related meetings of several people to the extent possible; otherwise other appropriate, equivalent protection measures have to be implemented (e.g., ventilation). In companies with more than ten employees, small work groups need to be established that may contact each other only to the extent necessary for the operation. Additionally, time-shifted work shall be made possible insofar as operational conditions permit.
With regard to face-masks, according to the ordinance the employer is obliged to provide standardized face-masks, FFP-2 masks or equivalent respirators to the employees if the following applies: (i) the requirements for room occupancy as summarized above cannot be met, or (ii) a minimum distance of 1.5 meters cannot be maintained, or (iii) in the course of the activities performed, hazards due to increased aerosol emissions are to be expected. The employees must wear the face-masks. Alternatively, the employer may abstain from providing face-masks, if other, equally effective measures are taken.
The ordinance is in force until 15 March 2021.