OSH Organisation

Every employer has a duty to organise occupational safety and health (OSH) provision for their employees in the workplace. This page explains how they can tackle the issues, what structures are required, and which instruments may be of help.

Organisation of Occupational Health and Safety
© Uwe Völkner, Fotoagentur FOX

Organisational structures and processes for workplace OSH

Occupational safety and health comprises all measures that ensure and enhance safety at work and protection for employees’ health. It is down to the organisation of workplace OSH how needs are identified, decisions taken, and ultimately measures taken. This means creating organisational structures such as the OSH committee that, according to Section 11 of the German Occupational Safety Act (Arbeitssicherheitsgesetz, ASiG), has to be established by all organisations with more than twenty employees. It also means implementing organisational processes such as the risk assessment according to sections 5 and 6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Arbeitsschutzgesetz, ArbSchG). The other fundamental pillars of workplace OSH organisation include the occupational safety specialist, who is in principle to be appointed by all organisations with at least one employee, and the occupational physician. These experts advise and support managers on workplace prevention and the human-centred design of working conditions. Alongside this advisory function, they usually have a role in the delivery of OSH interventions as well. Nevertheless, it remains the employer’s responsibility to ensure that all the measures prescribed, possible, and acceptable in the context of occupational safety and health are actually put into practice and constantly further improved.

Activities of OSH specialists and occupational physicians

The general provisions set out in the ASiG concerning the activities performed by occupational physicians and occupational safety specialists have been filled out in greater detail by the German Statutory Accident Insurance (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung, DGUV) with the requirements it lays down in its Regulation 2 (Vorschrift 2), which has been in force since 2011. This regulation explains in practical terms how practitioners can supply evidence that their expertise in safety technology meets the standards stipulated by the ASiG. According to the regulation, such expertise is acquired by completing a training course for OSH specialists in combination with one the prescribed basic qualifications that are listed (as a master craftsperson, technician, or engineer). It specifies that physicians must have done advanced training entitling them to practice as an occupational physician.

In addition, DGUV Regulation 2 describes the scope of tasks occupational physicians and OSH specialists need to carry out while supporting workplaces, as well as possible models that can be followed to do this, such as the "alternative model of demand-based supervision". This is a model for smaller organisations with up to fifty employees under which OSH-related duties are overwhelmingly performed by the employer, who is required to take appropriate training. The regulation also states the criteria that can be used to determine the scope of support activities. The regulation thus supplies fundamental guidance for organisations of all sizes and sectors. The social accident insurance provider with which the organisation is insured will always be able to supply their version of the regulation, which will have been adapted to reflect their particular terms and conditions. A link to the standard text of DGUV Regulation 2 coordinated between all Germany’s social accident insurance providers can be found at the bottom of this page.

GDA-ORGAcheck self-assessment tool

Apart from supervision by occupational physicians and OSH specialists, there is also a range of other statutory requirements concerning the organisation of workplace OSH. They have been specified by the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (Gemeinsame Deutsche Arbeitsschutzstrategie, GDA), a national strategy led by the German Federation, the federal states (Länder), and the social accident insurance providers with the participation of the employers’ associations and trade unions. In 2013 these strategic partners published the GDA-ORGAcheck self-assessment tool, which translates the GDA’s guideline Organisation of Occupational Safety and Health into a form that is easily applicable in workplaces. It is structured around the fifteen elements that have to be examined under the GDA guideline, which the supervisory services of the federal states and the social accident insurance providers (are able to) draw on in their advisory and monitoring activities. For instance, the GDA-ORGAcheck includes questions about structural adjustments made to accommodate OSH concerns in organisational planning and procurement processes and the possible integration of contractors into work procedures. The GDA-ORGAcheck also covers requirements derived from the Ordinance on Preventive Occupational Health Care (Verordnung zur arbeitsmedizinischen Vorsorge, ArbmedVV). A link to the GDA-ORGAcheck tool can be found at the bottom of this page.

OSH organisation at its best: OSH management systems

Organisations that particularly wish to fulfil their obligation to establish functioning OSH arrangements can do so by voluntarily introducing an occupational safety and health management system (OSH-MS). An OSH-MS helps to anchor safety and health provision especially effectively in management structures and processes. The operational introduction of one of the various OHS-MSs on the market - such as the ISO 45001 standard - is usually subject to a charge. The National Guideline for OSH Management Systems (Nationaler Leitfaden für Arbeitsschutzmanagementsysteme, NLF) offers a free alternative. This guideline is to be understood as  a framework document for the development and assessment of an OSH-MS, provides companies and organisations with a cost-free introduction to the subject and provides an overview of the content and type of structure of an OSH-MS. It supplies the basis on which the social accident insurance providers and the state OSH authorities are able to offer organisations voluntary compliance audits. A compliance audit of this kind determines the extent to which an OSH-MS is consistent with general system requirements and includes a report setting out its results in written form.

The future of OSH organisation

The Corona pandemic threw up numerous challenges for OSH practitioners too and brought OSH into the focus of public attention. Organisations were specifically called upon to protect the health of their employees. Many had to keep adapting to constantly changing conditions in a highly unpredictable environment, but went about this task with great commitment. On the one hand, various collections of data have supplied evidence about the broad range of OSH measures that were taken; on the other hand, the influence of existing structures and failings in the workplace organisation of OSH provision have become evident. Only time will tell whether the many experts responsible for workplace OSH who claim occupational safety and health is gaining in significance will prove to be correct. The same applies to intended investments or the desire for higher qualification in occupational safety-related topics. Finally, it has been shown by an evaluation of the German data from the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER 2019) that small and micro enterprises are more likely to comply with the statutory requirements concerning OSH supervision if their leaders and managers have received relevant training.

Nonetheless, even before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic it was apparent that new structures and OSH approaches would be required both within companies and beyond, in order to counteract increasing invisibility caused by digitalisation. In addition, technological developments are driving the convergence of technical and organisational OSH and demanding new concepts for the assessment of work equipment and systems such as AI-supported production facilities.


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