Occupational Safety: Definition, Regulations, Importance

What is Occupational Safety: A Definition

Occupational safety encompasses all measures aimed at protecting the health of employees. This includes workplace safety and the promotion of a health-supportive design of workspaces. Prevention of conditions that endanger safety and health, with the involvement of employees, is the primary focus of occupational safety. Additionally, corrective measures such as continuous improvements also contribute to occupational safety.

The Occupational Safety Law: Laws, Legal Basis

As an employer, you have the duty to protect and improve the health of your employees. This obligation was established in the German Occupational Safety Law (ArbSchG) in 1996, thereby implementing the European Framework Directive 89/391/EEC on occupational safety and health into national law.

Occupational safety is not just a burdensome obligation for employers; it is a meaningful and necessary service to the community that positively impacts business through fewer workplace accidents, reduced illness-related absences, and higher performance.

In Germany, occupational safety involves employee participation. Employee representatives must be involved in hazard assessments, the definition of preventive measures, the documentation of actions, and effectiveness checks. Typically, the collaboration between employers and employees in matters of occupational safety is regulated through a works agreement.

The employer bears the responsibility for occupational safety. While they can delegate duties and tasks to employees, the employer must ensure their implementation. The employer must establish and enforce occupational safety regulations and guidelines that align with the requirements of the Occupational Safety Law. Employees are obligated to follow instructions for occupational safety and to report identified hazards to the employer.

Employers who fail to demonstrably fulfill the requirements of the Occupational Safety Law may face significant fines, and in cases of intention or repeated disregard of regulations, even imprisonment. Therefore, establish formal and legally sound occupational safety practices within your organization.

Different Principles of Occupational Safety

The Top Principle

The “Top Principle” describes a human-centered approach to work design. When issues related to occupational safety are identified, technical causes must be addressed first. If the problems cannot be fully resolved through this approach, organizational measures should be taken. If residual risks still exist, personal measures must be implemented.

Example: If noise in the workplace endangers the health of employees, the initial step should involve measures capable of reducing the noise level, such as enclosing a loud machine in a sound-insulated housing (technical measure). If this doesn’t sufficiently resolve the issue, limiting the presence of employees near the noisy area might be considered (organizational measure). If this isn’t feasible, providing employees with hearing protection could be an option (personal measure).

The Stop Principle

If no technical, organizational and personal measure helps to eliminate the cause of conditions at work that are hazardous to health, the “stop principle” must be applied.

A noisy machine that cannot be contained but that employees have to work on for a long time and hearing protection cannot adequately reduce noise levels for employees must be replaced with a quieter machine.

The concrete implementation of occupational safety in companies

As an employer, make a clear commitment to occupational safety. Appoint a suitable and qualified occupational health and safety officer. Do not assume that your employees will take care of occupational safety, but delegate occupational safety tasks to suitable people in your organization in a binding and comprehensible manner in writing. Hire a security officer.

In order to fully implement occupational health and safety in companies, the aspects of “safety” and “health” must be integrated into the company organization. Preventive and corrective measures must be provided for effective occupational health and safety management.

Preventive action

The preventive measures include in particular:

  • The risk assessment at all workplaces
  • A health-promoting and safe workplace design
  • Active measures to protect the environment
  • Consideration of health insurance reports in the company
  • An integration of occupational safety in construction projects, machine installations, etc.
  • Regular training of all employees on occupational safety

Corrective Actions

The corrective measures include in particular:

  • Evaluation of work accidents and illnesses
  • Technical measures to eliminate causes of health or safety risks in the workplace
  • Organizational actions to eliminate causes of health or safety hazards in the workplace
  • Personal actions taken to eliminate causes of workplace health or safety hazards
  • Continuous improvement of occupational safety

Dealing with legislation

It is possible to derive from the legislation the obligations of the operator, which in turn include checks, briefings, notifications, etc. In order to know which legislation is applicable to your company, it is advisable to create a legal directory and update it continuously.

Operational occupational safety

Reflect on the duties of your employees regarding occupational safety in the function and job descriptions. Make sure that all your employees receive regular, appropriate training in occupational safety issues and that this training and the participants are documented in a comprehensible manner. You should also use instructions and controls to ensure that risk assessments are always carried out when you change work processes or invest in new machines and systems. Use the results of the risk assessment to improve the conditions in relation to the health of the employees through suitable preventive measures. Protect courageous workers in workplaces where certain hazards are unavoidable by using personal protective equipment appropriate to the hazard. In order to determine the hazard potential, carry out an assessment of the potential hazards arising from the working conditions in each workplace. In this risk assessment according to § 5 ArbSchG not only the physical, chemical and biological effects of the working conditions on the health of the employees are assessed, but also the effects resulting from “the design of the work and production processes, the work processes and their interaction”. and “inadequate qualifications and training of employees”.

In operational environments, the working postures, weights that have to be moved, noise exposure and vibrations are particularly taken into account.

Particular attention is paid to handling hazardous goods and substances. In administrative environments, it is about ergonomics and the hazards that emanate from screen work and stress. Since 2013, you have also had to have psychological stress on employees at work recorded. In addition to the hazards themselves, you must also analyze and document the causes of the hazards.

Occupational health and safety also includes effective operational emergency management. The management is also personally responsible for this. Therefore, make sure that a functioning and comprehensibly documented system is installed and practiced in your company.


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