The Workplaces Ordinance serves to ensure the safety and protection of the health of employees when configuring and operating workplaces. It is intended for employers who must ensure that the workplace does not entail any hazard for the employees and remaining hazards are kept as low as possible.
The Ordinance on the Amendment of Occupational Safety Regulations (article 1 modification of the Workplaces Ordinance) was published in the Federal Gazette (part 1 no. 56 page 2681). The ordinance came into effect on 3rd December 2016.
The Workplaces Ordinance (ArbStättV) has the objective of protecting employees in workplaces and contributing to the prevention of industrial accidents and occupational diseases. A significant part of the reported accidents can be attributed to the improper condition, equipment, and maintenance of workplaces, e.g. falling accidents on damaged flooring and stairways, as well as transport accidents on inappropriate or too narrow traffic routes. However, severe accidents by cracking glass walls or glass inserts in doors or diseases caused by operating noise disadvantageous to the health should be avoided as well. Furthermore, the ArbStättV serves the humane organization of work. This mainly includes requirements regarding air, climate, and illumination conditions beneficial to health and regarding immaculate social facilities, particularly sanitary and recreation rooms.
The Workplaces Ordinance – ArbStättV (Federal Gazette I no. 44 from 24 August 2004, page 2179) contains minimum requirements for protecting the safety and health of employees when configuring and operating workplaces. The ordinance is intended to implement the EC Workplaces Directive 89/654/EEC on a national basis. Additionally, Directive 92/58/EEC of the Council on the minimum requirements regarding the safety and health protection labelling at the workstation is also implemented by a dynamic reference within the Workplaces Ordinance. Furthermore, the annex IV parts A and B of the Directive 92/57/EEC of the Council on the minimum requirements for safety and health protection to be applied to temporary or mobile construction sites is implemented.
The ArbStättV consists of a decree part with a total of ten paragraphs and an annex containing requirements for workplaces divided into six sections. Within the ordinance, the minimum requirements of the mentioned EU directives are implemented directly. The ArbStättV specifies general protection goals instead of specific figures and detailed requirements. This provides the employers with increased freedom regarding their decisions for the organisation and operation of the workplace. It is particularly important that companies take into consideration the interests of handicapped persons regarding safety and health protection (§ 3a). A Committee on Workplaces consults the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) and has the task of determining rules for workplaces (§7).
The paragraph part of the ordinance further includes, in addition to provisions for configuring and operating workplaces (§3a and §4) and the regulation regarding non-smoker protection (§5), specific provisions for working spaces, sanitary rooms, break rooms, ready rooms, and first aid rooms, as well as quarters (§ 6). In chapter 1 of the annex to the ordinance, general requirements regarding the structure of workstations are included. Amongst other things, this refers to room dimensions, floor materials, rooftops, windows, doors, and traffic routes, as well as moving walkways, loading ramps, and ladders. Here, reference is made to safety marking and general requirements regarding the structure and firmness of workplaces according to the type of use. Measures for protection against special hazards such as falling and incipient fires, as well as specifications for escape and rescue routes are mentioned in the second section. The third section establishes essential working conditions, such as movement area, arrangement and equipment of workstations, climate conditions, including air temperature and ventilation, as well as illumination and noise. Information on sanitary, break, ready, and first aid rooms, as well as quarters can be found in the fourth section. Ultimately, the fifth section addresses complementing requirements for workplaces not enclosed on all sides and located outdoors, as well as for construction sites. The last section includes measures for organising Visual Display Unit (VDU) workstations. This section was inserted within the framework of the most recent change to the ArbStättV in November 2016.
The execution of the ordinance is incumbent upon the occupational health and safety regulating authorities (Trade Supervisory Boards and agencies for occupational health and safety, respectively). With the coming into effect of the BGV A1 "Grundsätze der Prävention" (basic prevention principles) (hitherto VBG 1) since 1st January 2004, accident insurers also obtained a legal basis for fulfilling their prevention tasks with the help of official occupational health and safety regulations.
The technical rules for workplaces are an essential aid for the practical implementation of the ArbStättV.
The technical rules for workplaces (Arbeitsstättenregeln - ASR) describe measures and practical implementation aids and explain how protection goals and requirements regarding the safety and health of employees when configuring and operating workplaces included in the Workstation Ordinance can be achieved by employers.
The ARS refer to current state of the art at the time of publication. They make the performance of the risk assessment pursuant to § 3 of ArbStättV and the definition of suitable measures for the health and safety of employees within the company easier for employers. If employers implement the ASR, they may assume that they are complying with the provisions of the ArbStättV regarding the field of application of the ASR (presumption of conformity).
However, the Workplaces Ordinance does not specify any obligation for applying the ASR. Employers may discretely deviate from the specifications of the ASR and meet the protection goal specifications of the Workplaces Ordinance, including the annex, differently. In this case, they must eliminate or reduce the determined hazards that employees are or may be exposed to differently in such a way that the same level of protection is achieved as with the ASR ("state of the art").
Where ever the announcement of workplace rules includes new requirements based on the continuous development of the state of the art and the measures may only be implemented in the already configured and operated workplaces with comprehensive modifications or significant expenditure, the question of preservation of the status quo arises. The question of whether employers must adapt the workplace in accordance with the new rules or whether the existing workplace continues to comply with the requirements of the Workplaces Ordinance may only be answered by repeating the risk assessment.