Guidelines providing practical assistance to businesses.

SW – 05/2020

‘We want to ensure safe working practices during the pandemic in as wide a range as possible of industry and small and medium-sized enterprises. Employers have a particular responsibility for their staff in order to protect them from infections.’ This was the decision adopted by the Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder on May 6, 2020, when they decided to further relax measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. As restrictions are eased, employers are increasingly faced with the question of how they can fulfil their responsibilities and ensure their employees remain healthy. There are OSH standards and guidelines at both EU and national level which are intended to help employers and provide practical assistance.

‘Healthy workplaces – Stop the pandemic’

This is the slogan for the action plan launched by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) on 7 May 2020 to address the occupational safety and health challenges caused by the current pandemic. The action plan includes guidelines, information and awareness raising materials that provide guidance on both returning to work and home-based teleworking.

EU-OSHA’s guidance ‘Back to the workplace - Adapting workplaces and protecting workers’ aims to help companies provide workers with the information they need and put in place measures to prevent infection. The guidance includes specific recommendations and covers the following areas:

  • risk assessment and appropriate measures,
  • involving workers,
  • taking care of workers who have been ill,
  • planning and learning for the future, and
  • staying well informed about the latest information.

The guidance also contains a collection of links to information from different countries for specific sectors and professions.

At the very start of the COVID-19 crisis,  EU-OSHA published its ‘Guidance for the workplace’, which compiled the most important information on the coronavirus, on preventing the spread of infections, on the procedure to be followed when COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed in the workplace, and other information and recommendations related to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Avoiding the risk of a second wave of infection

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned that without adequate protection for returning workers, a second wave of the virus could occur, and it has published some practical recommendations for safely returning to work. On 28 April, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the ILO urged governments to put in place measures to prevent and control COVID-19 in the workplace, with the active involvement of employers’ and workers’ organisations. All employers need to carry out risk assessments beforehand and ensure that their workplaces meet strict occupational safety and health criteria in order to minimise the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19 and prevent a second wave of infection in the workplace.

Sector-specific information and recommendations

On 16 April 2020, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), together with the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV), introduced the ‘SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety and Health Standard’, which sets out specific requirements for occupational safety and health during the coronavirus crisis (see article Apr 2020). Since then, the German social accident insurance institutions have refined the general standard to reflect the specific requirements of each sector and have published special webpages with this information. Additional information on how to deal with COVID-19 in the education sector has also been compiled, containing specific recommendations for day-care and childcare facilities, as well as for schools, universities and research institutions. This information is currently available in German only.

An additional collection of guidelines and good practices for occupational safety and health in the context of COVID-19 at both EU and national level can be found on the website of the French OSH institution EUROGIP (French only).