COVID-19 – European OSHA Gives Guidance on Returning to Work

When starting to take steps to return to a new normal where business continues, even as outbreaks may flare up, employee health and safety certainly are top of mind. Since many EU member states are loosening up COVID-19 lockdowns, employers need to know how to ensure a safe environment for their employees when they come back to the workplace.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has now released new guidelines for keeping employees safe.

The key points of the EU-OSHA’s protocol employers should observe are summarized below:

  • Minimize exposure to COVID-19
    • Establish rules and collective control measures to eliminate the risk of exposure. Since workplaces and jobs are different, it might not always work to eliminate the risk but action for minimizing exposure is crucial.
    • Use personal protective equipment and establish hygiene rules where possible. Always give guidance to the employees how to use it and provide appropriate information.
  • Planning the resumption of work
    • Carry out return plans before the employees come back. Pay special attention to these employees who are at high risk.
  • Deal with high numbers of absence
    • Since many employees may be absent due to an infection or maybe because they must stay in quarantine because of infections in their immediate surrounding, try to find solutions that work for all.
    • Some employees may still be able to work remotely but if not, it could be necessary to arrange flexible working with the available employees who might have additional workload.
    • In any way, respect the rules and agreements on working hours and rest periods.
  • Managing employees working remotely
    • Risk assessments and protective measures must not be ignored for employees working from home.
    • Good communication is crucial, make sure that employees working remotely are always up to date.
  • Involve employees
    • Working with your employees to evaluate risks and identify countermeasures is an important part of good health and safety practice.
    • Health & Safety Officers/Committees help to shape preventive measures and make sure that they are successfully executed.
  • Take care of recovered employees
    • In particular, employees who were seriously ill with COVID-19 may still have to deal with consequences of the disease after recovery.
    • These employees may require special advice on their return, always bearing in mind the privacy of these employees.
  • Conclusions for the future
    • The measures taken have to be evaluated and the own crisis management has to be updated in order to update the knowledge gained from this pandemic.
    • E.g. working from home may be considered as a modern, long-term working practice.
  • Stay up to date by using reliable sources of information for example:
    • World Health Organization
    • European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
    • European Commission
    • European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
  • Compliance with sectoral guidelines
    • Sector-specific guidelines related to COVID-19 are available from several countries

Although the EU-OSHA guidelines are non-binding, companies should comply with these recommendations in order to limit exposure.

Employers are generally responsible to protect their employees’ health at the workplace why they are obliged to carry out a risk assessment based on the individual circumstances to determine individual health and safety rules for their company. Compliance with EU-guidelines as well as with the health and safety standards introduced by the German government which we summarized here will not only help avoiding risks when it comes to claims for damages by employees. A solid risk management is also in favor of the company and will lead to successful workflows during the crisis.

Please feel free to reach out to our Employment Team in Germany or your usual contact at Orrick to find out more or if you need any help.