Covid Rules in the Workplace: Infection Control in Companies

The new Covid Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance has been in force in Germany since October 2022. Its aim: to ensure occupational health and safety under pandemic conditions and to enable flexible infection control measures for companies.

Since the start of the Covid pandemic, new occupational health and safety regulations have regularly come into force in Germany. The new German SARS-CoV Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance (Corona-ArbSchV) has now been in force since October 2022 to reduce the risk of infection in the workplace and minimise sickness-related downtime. The ordinance contains the proven regulations for pandemic control. Furthermore, it obliges companies to individually assess the operational risk situation and to establish an appropriate hygiene concept. Overall, the new German Covid Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance contains fewer mandatory requirements, but gives companies more leeway for individual assessments.

Obligation to carry out a risk assessment: Infection protection in the workplace

After the expiry of the last Covid Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance in the spring of this year, mandatory infection control measures only applied to certain activities and industries based on state and federal regulations in Germany. Nevertheless, companies had and still have a duty of care towards their employees. The basic rule is that the employer is responsible for protection against covid infections in the workplace. According to the new Covid Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance, the basis is the obligatory risk assessment. This should enable responsible handling of the increasing incidence of infection in the autumn and winter season of 2022/2023 and largely reduce economic downtimes.

Individual hygiene concepts for companies: these measures protect

According to the new SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety regulation, employers in Germany must individually assess the risk situation for their respective companies and create and implement appropriate hygiene concepts. These must specify the necessary measures to protect against infection at the workplace. These apply equally in the employees' break areas as well as during break times. The protective measures are subject to assessment by the employer. Keeping a distance, observing hygiene, wearing a mask in everyday life and ventilating regularly are still sensible measures in the company environment to protect employees, visitors and other business partners from a covid infection in the company

Infection protection measures to be examined as part of the hygiene concept: 

  • Distance regulation: 1.5 metre minimum distance 
  • Hygiene: regular disinfection of hands, compliance with cough and sneeze etiquette (into the crook of the arm)
  • Ventilation: regular ventilation of office and work rooms 
  • Contact reduction: avoid simultaneous use of office space 
  • Home office: work from home for activities where this is possible (e.g. PC work) 
  • Covid tests: free on-site tests for employees 
  • Mandatory masks: if other measures are not possible or do not provide sufficient protection

In contrast to the previous regulation (spring 2022), there is no longer a general home office obligation with the new German Covid Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. But: Employers must check whether the home office offer is a sensible measure for company covid protection. Within the framework of the individual risk assessment, it should be weighed up which activities can be carried out from home. As before, personal contacts in the company should be reduced as much as possible. 

Companies can receive support in drawing up a hygiene concept as well as in the risk assessment, for example, from the employers' liability insurance associations as well as from the recommendations for action of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

Current regulations on compulsory testing and vaccination for employees

Companies - with the exception of companies in the health and care sector - are not obliged to provide their employees with free Covid rapid tests. However, this possibility is to be examined as part of the risk assessment. 

Employers have no right to ask for vaccination certificates from their employees or to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. - Unless their business falls under an exemption, for example in nursing and other medical facilities. However, companies are obliged to support workers in taking up vaccination offers - even during working hours.

Covid rules in the healthcare workplace

Particularly strict regulations also apply under the new Covid Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance for employees in the health and care sector, such as in hospitals. In addition to the general obligation to wear masks, the testing obligation and the currently still valid institution-related obligation to vaccinate health care and nursing staff still apply here. Employees in clinics, doctors' surgeries or nursing homes must therefore present proof of complete vaccination protection - or a doctor's certificate stating that they cannot be vaccinated. 

In addition to making work easier, digital access control solutions offer the advantage that they can be individually adapted depending on the hazard situation and new legal regulations.

What effects does the abolition of the isolation obligation have on occupational safety? 

In some German federal states - for example Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse - the obligation to isolate symptom-free, positively tested persons has been abolished. However, when staying outside of one's own home and in contact with other people, wearing a medical FFP2 mask is mandatory for five days. For employers, this means that employees can go to work despite a positive Covid test. Workers in medical and nursing professions as well as employees in mass accommodations and correctional facilities are exempt. These groups of people are still banned from working. 

The lifting of the isolation requirement in the individual federal states is definitely viewed critically. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and must reduce the risks of infection in the workplace. Therefore, the home office option for people who have tested positive should be examined in any case in order to protect other employees. Basically, it is up to the companies to assess the risk situation and to bring a positively tested, symptom-free employee to work while observing further safety measures. At the same time, with the end of the isolation obligation, both employers and employees are encouraged to deal with the coronavirus independently and responsibly. According to experts, the main problem is likely to be the lack of uniform regulations, which could lead to confusion and inconsistencies - for example, if a company has sites in several federal states.

Targeted infection control in the workplace: also useful in the long term

The fact is: the new Covid Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance in Germany revives the proven pandemic control steps - above all the AHA+L formula - and offers companies more scope for individual hygiene concepts. At the same time, the ordinance appeals to the responsibility of employers. The regulation is valid until April 2023 - in view of the past pandemic years, employers would certainly do well to transform tried and tested measures into long-term concepts. In this way, they not only protect their employees from Covid-19, but also contribute to targeted prevention, especially during the annual cold and flu season.

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