Berlin In order to enable the slow recovery of the economy despite the still high risk of infection, the Federal Cabinet passed Covid 19 occupational safety standards on Thursday. “We must not let go, we are far from over the mountain,” said Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD). There is no return to normality anytime soon.
For example, employers must ensure that employees in buildings, outdoors and in vehicles keep a minimum distance of 1.5 meters and that colleagues do not get too close to one another in the company or during breaks – for example through barriers, markings or access regulations.
When contacts are inevitable, employers are required to keep nose and mouth covers available for employees, but also for customers or service providers. In addition, they have to provide sufficient washing facilities and disinfectants and particularly protect risk groups in their workforce.
Heil also appealed to the employees to protect their colleagues from infection: “The principle applies: never get sick to work,” said the Minister of Labor. The President of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Isabel Rothe, explains how government regulations can be implemented in an interview with the Handelsblatt.
Read the full interview here
Ms. Rothe, how do you rate the decisions of the Federal Government and the Prime Ministers regarding the corona exit?
A differentiated, balanced and appropriate solution was found – also from the point of view of health protection. I greatly appreciate that politicians seek and take into account the advice of science from a wide variety of disciplines. We are of course particularly pleased that Federal Minister of Labor Heil today announced additional mandatory occupational safety standards.
In your view, what are the requirements for working life in workshops and offices to return to normal?
If not yet done, the decisions on infection protection in the company must be specified and implemented together with the occupational health and safety experts in a sector-specific and company-specific manner. Hygiene standards and distance regulations must also be strictly observed in working life.
How should that work in the open-plan office or a workshop?
There are many ways to minimize contacts in everyday work, for example through technical measures to separate work areas, relaxing core working hours, home office, working time corridors or shift schedules. When working in shifts, it should be ensured that the same colleagues always work together to limit the risk of infection. And even in factories that are largely fully automated, the seating must be kept at a distance in break rooms.
Do the hygiene standards generally have to be tightened?
For example, we need sufficient short breaks and sanitary facilities in the factories to enable hygiene and hand washing even more frequently. Increased cleaning intervals help to reduce the risk of infection. Wherever components are handed over despite organizational and technical measures, gloves must be mandatory. And there are also structural protective measures such as the plexiglass panes that we see at many supermarket checkouts, for example.
Should companies keep employees working from home?
Wherever possible, yes. However, we recommend switching to presence phases in the factory or office. Because contact with colleagues or the boss is an important means of good work organization and, above all, coping with stress. And at the moment, employees have a lot of stress, from worrying about their own health or that of relatives, fear of losing their job, to overtime and overwork.
Can the economy be adequately prepared for a pandemic like the current one?
The topic of the pandemic is not new in the companies, especially in the larger companies there are corresponding plans. But Covid-19 eclipses everything we’ve seen in the recent past. Of course, many would now like to have large supplies of protective masks in their closets, but hardly anyone has that.
Should breathing masks be worn in the office and factory?
Wherever the distance regulations cannot be adhered to consistently, covering the mouth and nose makes sense. It helps to protect employees and customers. However, respirators should be reserved for medical personnel.
What should happen if illnesses occur in the company?
It is imperative that the employer adheres consistently to the stipulations of the responsible health authority. Contact persons are systematically identified here and quarantine measures may also be arranged among colleagues. It is just as important to warmly welcome colleagues once they have survived their illness; a risk of infection can then be excluded.
More: Health protection in the company is strict, but there is no alternative.