General information on occupational health and safety

Productive employees are essential for the success of a company. However, only healthy employees and a health-oriented working environment enable the highest possible performance to be achieved. The goal of occupational health and safety is to protect the health of all employees and includes all measures, means and methods to avert safety and health hazards.

Current legal regulations on occupational health and safety

Occupational health and safety in Germany is regulated by numerous laws, ordinances and directives.

Occupational Health and Safety Act ArbSchG

The Occupational Health and Safety Act is the central law for occupational health and safety in the workplace. In particular, it regulates the rights and obligations of both employers and employees. In particular, it stipulates the obligations of employers,

  • assess potential health and safety hazards at the workplace; and
  • derive suitable protective measures from this

In the course of this, the employer must also ensure a functioning occupational health and safety organisation in the company and integrate these structures and process.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act initially only provides employers with scope for decision-making. It is supplemented and concretised by further occupational health and safety ordinances.

These include:

  • Workplace Ordinance ArbStättV
  • Construction Site Ordinance
  • Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health BetrSichV
  • Noise and Vibration Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance
  • Ordinance on Hazardous Substances

Occupational Safety Act ASiG

The Occupational Safety Act regulates the requirement for employers to appoint company doctors, safety engineers and other specialised personnel. It also defines their respective tasks and regulates cooperation with regard to occupational health and safety. The main aim of the law is to prevent accidents.

Risk assessment

The ArbSchG focuses on the employer's duty to carry out a risk assessment at the place of work. Within the framework of the risk assessment, all potential hazards are to be identified in order to subsequently derive suitable measures for the protection of the employees.

Within the framework of the risk assessment, the entire workplace as well as the individual workplace should be analysed for physical as well as mental sources of stress. 

How such a risk assessment is to be carried out is not defined in detail and should therefore be oriented towards the individual case. The respective type and size of the enterprise should be decisive.

However, the following general steps are recognised as standard:

  • Preparation of the risk assessment
  • Determine the hazards
  • Assessing the hazards
  • Determine concrete protective measures
  • Implementing the measures
  • Checking the implementation
  • Continuing the risk assessment

Regardless of the type or size of the enterprise, the Occupational Health and Safety Act also imposes the obligation to document the risk assessment. The documentation must contain the results of the risk assessment, the measures derived from it and the results of the review of the measures.

Different institutions can support the employer in fulfilling its assessment task. Companies are supported in this by, for example 

  • Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA)
  • the occupational health and safety authorities of the Länder and 
  • the statutory accident insurance institutions
  • Different commercial suppliers

Occupational safety instruction

Occupational accidents are mostly caused by human error. The Occupational Safety and Health Act takes this into account by obliging employers to provide their employees with sufficient training on occupational safety and health. This applies in particular to

  • before taking up an activity for the first time,
  • when changing to a new area of responsibility or
  • if new work equipment is to be used. 

Instruction by the employer should always aim to create awareness of possible hazards in the workplace and encourage employees to behave in a safe manner.

Occupational health and safety measures

Occupational health and safety measures must be taken at different levels. A basic distinction is made between the following areas

  • Technical occupational safety and health
  • Social occupational safety and health

Technical occupational safety and health

Technical occupational safety and health includes all areas that affect the safety and health of employees at work. Consequently, the following areas fall under technical occupational safety and health:

  • Safety in workplaces
  • Noise and vibration protection
  • Work equipment
  • Radiation
  • Hazards due to electromagnetic fields

For the design, furnishing and equipping of office spaces, the first two points are of primary importance.

Safety in workplaces

The Workplace Ordinance provides employers with regulations on how workplaces must be set up and operated to ensure the safety and health of workers. The regulations of the ordinance serve as general guidelines and do not provide detailed information.

For operational practice, they are therefore supplemented by technical rules for workplaces (ASR), which specify the general requirements of the ArbStättV.

The workplace includes all places on the company's premises, inside or outside buildings. Escape routes, sanitary facilities and break rooms as well as individual workplaces are part of the workplace.

Among other things, the following information can be found in the Workplace Ordinance:

  • General requirements
    • Room dimensions
    • Floors, walls, ceilings, roofs
    • Windows, skylights
    • Doors, gates
    • Traffic routes
  • Working conditions
  • Measures for the design of VDU workstations
    • General requirements for VDU workstations / Ergonomics at the workplace
    • General requirements for screens and display screen equipment
    • Requirements for display screen equipment and work equipment for stationary use at workplaces
    • Requirements for portable display screen equipment for mobile use at workplaces
    • Requirements for the user-friendliness of VDU workstations

Noise and vibration protection

Especially in the manufacturing sector, physical effects such as noise and machine vibrations can have a strong impact on the health of employees. But even in the office, considerable noise pollution can quickly occur due to work equipment, colleagues on the phone or the like. As a result, noise-induced hearing loss has been at the top of the list of occupational diseases for many years. Through the Noise and Vibration Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance (LärmVibrationsArbSchV), employers are to ensure that suitable measures are taken to comply with limit values regarding loudness and vibrations.

Social occupational safety and health

Some persons and occupational groups are particularly worthy of protection, especially young people, (expectant) mothers, and workers in the field of passenger and goods transport. In order to protect them from excessive demands and damage to health, there are further regulations. Together with the regulations on working time, these form the area of social occupational safety and health.