​Safe Working Conditions

​What are safe working conditions?

Part 2 of the series of articles on the four most important elements in occupational health and safety.

Others, who know the subject, speak of 10 elements or 18, which they divide into core and additional elements. Still others have still other divisions. All this is not wrong and makes sense if you want to go deeper into the individual topics.

For me, the point here is to get started. Therefore, the simple structure and clarity is important to me.

You can find the other articles in this series here:
Part 1: Occupational safety and health organization
Part 3: Qualification for safe working
Part 4: Emergency preparedness

​Following the law means working safely, doesn’t it?

First, yes.

At least legally.

In my introduction to occupational health and safety, I indicated that laws can be seen as a guide: What do I have to do and how in order to work safely.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The times of “law and order” in the European Union have been coming to an end in occupational safety since 1986. Since then, the detailled specifications in laws, ordinances, accident prevention regulations have become less specific. More and more frequently we find the demand: have a risk assessment that takes into account the best available techniques.

​So what? Are we back to square one?

No. Even if the regulations don’t specify anything detailled, they at least tell us what we have to consider, what you have to implement in your company. And if there are detailed specifications in them, so much the better.

If not, we go deeper and look for the best available techniques. This is where the sub-legal rules and regulations help us. This term summarizes everything that is not in the actual legal texts, but is considered best available techniques.

The best available techniques can be defined by the legislator, such as in Germany in technical rules (e.g. TRBS, TRGS, workplace rules), in administrative regulations such as TA Luft. In harmonized standards or EN-norms, which we know throughout the EU in the area of machine safety, keywords Machinery Directive or CE.

The best available techniques can also be described in regulations that are not written by the legislator, but by private expert groups. Here I am referring primarily to DIN or DIN EN standards and VDE guidelines, but there are more.

As you can see, the subject is extensive, indeed it is a completely different subject again. That is why I only want to touch on it here.

It took me some time to understand why not everything is regulated in detail in laws, ordinances and accident prevention regulations. Then everything would be nice and simple, clear and comprehensible…

​At some point the knot is broken

Our installations, our plants and our workflows are so complex today that outsiders like ministry officials would not be able to keep track of it in detail. Specialization is becoming more and more far-reaching, regulations that work well in one company can´t be implemented in the same way in another, or may not work in the same way.

And if we really wanted to legislate everything in every detail: who would do it – more importantly: how would you still be able to keep track of it and find the points that are relevant to you?

Well, the last question remains open: no matter whether you have to search in a law or in a technical rule or standard, the search remains yours. Often we – yes, even I – have to search first in which set of rules we have to search.

This is easier with sound specialist knowledge, at least solid basic knowledge. You know the DIN standards that are important for your work. Just like the critical safety rules – what was it about the thumb and the circular saw?

However, the question arises whether you really need to know everything yourself now. Who knows me a little, guesses correctly: my answer is no. Proceed systematically, i.e. purposefully and step by step. Ask good questions to the right people.

Systematically – and in accordance with regulations as required by law – this is done with a risk assessment.

​Risk assessment, the spectre of terror

Risk assessment again?

I bet you have already done a risk assessment today!
Did you blow into your coffee this morning?
Did you check the weather before you left the house?
Were you paying attention to traffic when you crossed the street?

Did I win the bet?
Email me, and I’ll be happy to send you my bank details.
Let’s stop kidding –

​How does risk assessment work?

Just as simple as in our bet.

The crucial steps of a risk assessment are:

  1. assess the risks
  2. implement a suitable protective measure
  3. ask yourself if it worked

I would like to show you how this can be done using the examples from our bet:

​Example 1: blowing into the coffee

  1. You can scald your mouth or tongue if the coffee is too hot
  2. You’ve already learned from your mother that blowing helps…
  3. Yeah, that’s why you’re doing it

Example: pay attention to the weather

  1. You might catch a cold if the jacket is too thin or not rainproof
  2. To avoid getting sick, wear the right clothes for the weather
  3. That’s exactly why you have that jacket

Example: watch out for traffic

  1. If you’re not careful, the next car will run you over…
  2. You watch the traffic and use a big enough gap in the traffic
  3. Yeah, you made it back across the street in one piece

So: you could have described the hazards in these examples just as well or better. They can be minor risks, health hazards, but also the risk of a serious accident.

Whether it worked, you also ask yourself, at least subconsciously. Because if it didn’t, you’d be doing it differently by now. And if it was quite close across the road, you wait for a bigger gap next time or run faster.

​Where do the safeguards come from?

They are

  • learned (coffee is now cool enough)
  • own experience (the jacket fits the weather)
  • are based on regulations (here the road traffic regulations)

This is not black and white, the proper exercise of the street traffic regulation also needs to be learned and adapted to one’s own experience. This goes smoothly into each other and complements each other.

As you can see, risk assessments are a topic that fills my days and evenings. Here is just enough to get you started.

​What if I can’t find a defaultor prerequisite?

Skip to the next question?
Won’t work.

Ask the audience?
That might work if it’s more or less general knowledge. But then you already know it yourself, maybe you’re just not thinking about it.

Pull the phone joker?
Yeah sure, ask someone who knows about it. Use the knowledge and experience of others for yourself.

Use common sense?
Of course, always. Just sometimes it’s not enough. Or why do we as a society accept that people are regularly harmed at work?

I myself have had good experiences with the following three questions, all of which are not mine:

  • would I do it myself?
  • would I let my kid do that?
  • if not, what do I have to change?


With the first post to this series, you’ve set up your business so that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.

Through this second part, you will have the basic tools to make the work in your company safe and healthy.

In the next step, we will look at how your employees manage to work the way you want them to.