​Manage Occupational Health and Safety

​How do I organize occupational health and safety in my company?

This is the first part of an introductory series of posts in which I go into more detail about the key elements in occupational health and safety.

I answer these questions, among others, in this post:

  • Who is responsible for health and safety in the company?
  • Who has which tasks and responsibilities?
  • How is the health and safety organization related to the “normal” company organization?

You can find the other articles in this series here:
Part 2: Safe working conditions
Part 3: Qualification for safe working
Part 4: Emergency preparedness

​Basic information on roles and responsibilities

The employer is responsible for a well working health and safety organization in the company.

So much for the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Does this now mean that as an entrepreneur, you have to know and be capable to do everything?

No. Just as with other subjects, for example tax law, you don’t have to do everything yourself. The purpose is that even if you delegate tasks and related responsibilities, you remain accountable. Even a tax advisor does not take away your accountability on making sure you pay your taxes correctly and on time.

Which responsibility can be delegated and what responsibility still remains with you is something I will look at in another post.

This is about who, as an employee or external party, assumes which tasks and the associated responsibility. In other words, how you set up a sound health and safety organization.

​The employer

The entrepreneur – in this context we better talk about the employer – is known to have the overall accountability for the company. Of course, he/she also bears the entrepreneurial risk and is responsible for the entrepreneurial success.

As an employer, you are not only authorized to give instructions to your employees and can demand their work performance. By employing other people, you assume responsibility for them. Starting with the remuneration, up to the responsibility for suitable working conditions to avoid accidents and work-related diseases – what a monster of a sentence.

The employer’s duty of care for its employees is even regulated by legislation. This includes, in particular, protection against impairment of health through work.

​The executives or managers

If your company has several hierarchical levels – for example, if there are department heads or foremen or column leaders, they lead their employees, i.e. divide up their work and guide them in their work. By taking on management tasks, they assume direct responsibility for their employees. Even if perhaps superficially only for their work performance.

It therefore makes sense to involve managers in health and safety in a specific way. Assign them the tasks and responsibilities in health and safety appropriate to their position.

​The employees

Each individual employee is integrated into the safety organization. He/she has duties to cooperate, which are regulated by law, comparable to the employer’s duty of care. The individual employee complies with the rules and works as stipulated by his employer or his employment contract. In addition, every employee should have a vested interest in staying healthy and not suffering any accidents.

So quickly, the direct line from management to executives to employees is covered.

​Special functions

We know special functions and job descriptions in occupational safety. You have already heard of safety delegates, safety specialists or works doctors. These have their justification. After all, the specialist knowledge needed to operate health and safety successfully is specialist knowledge, not general knowledge. It is simply too complex for that.

Therefore, for certain tasks and issues, there are these experts who support you as an employer in the implementation. From this choice of words, you can deduce the responsibility that these experts can take: These people are responsible for supporting you properly as an entrepreneur.

That is, they must help factually and technically correct. But they cannot take responsibility for the result – simply because you, as the entrepreneur or manager, make the decisions.

Especially in the case of safety delegates, one more thing quickly becomes clear: safety officers usually take on this function in addition to their normal work and do not do it full-time. That is why it is usually said that they are active according to their possibilities.

​The possibilities include

  • their qualification – their expertise
  • their competences – what they are allowed to decide or even be responsible for
  • their resources – here the question of how much time they have available for their tasks

Imagine a safety delegate not getting the opportunity to attend training courses to further their education. The expert knowledge will probably be far behind.

The corollary: if you want good support, make sure you have good supporters.

​Do you have a workers’ council or union representative?

If so, you have another player in your health and safety organization.

Short and sweet: the workers’ council represents the interests of the employees. And an essential interest of the employees is to work safely.

This has also been recognized by our legislator, and tasks and responsibilities in the co-determination have been defined accordingly. The workers’ council therefore has a fundamental interest in participating in the development and implementation of health and safety in your company.

​How do I integrate the different functions into the organisation – how do I transfer tasks and responsibilities?

The question of how to delegate tasks and responsibilities properly is difficult to answer. At least when legal disputes arise, there are starting points for questioning the delegation of tasks. But we are working to ensure that legal disputes do not arise.

Following a few principles will already help you further than many other businesses are today:

  • Stakeholder involvement
  • Give and take
  • Written form
  • Control

Talk to the humans involved

Do not impose tasks on your people. Talk through, what you want to do, with them beforehand. Get their opinion, they often have good ideas on how things can be done.

But don’t let that take away your decision-making and directive authority; you remain accountable for making sure things run smoothly.

​Do not just demand, enable the result

Your employee can only perform tasks if he can. Sounds stupid, but it’s true: he must be qualified for the task, i.e. simply know how to do it. He must have the time to do the task well. He needs the skills required for the task. For example, a manager should be able to implement disciplinary measures, or at least initiate them, in order to be able to assert himself if the worst comes to the worst.

​Choose written form

True to the old auditor principle: not documented is not done. Simple case: how are you going to prove that you have delegated a task if the person denies it and you have nothing in hand.

The documentation is not witchcraft: first look at what you already have: for managers, the employment contract should provide a lot. You have probably concluded a contract with external agents. Is there a collective agreement that provides for this? A work regulation for your company?

If nothing is there, you should at least order the essential functions with tasks, resources and responsibilities in writing. This does not require any special effort: list the points in keywords, date, signatures, done.

How this can look in detail is clearly beyond the scope of this post. We can come back to this in another post.

​Trust is good, control is better

This quote is attributed to Lenin. I prefer the old Russian phrase “trust, but verify”. Where would we be if we couldn’t rely on our employees. That said, a certain amount of checking is essential. Even possible without compromising trust.

Just ask or get a report. How’s it going, are you able to implement the tasks as we had envisioned? In this way you fulfil your monitoring duties, know the current status, see if support is needed on your part. You show your counterpart that you are serious about the task.

​What roles/functions need to be covered?

Essentially, there are the legal requirements for the specific functions in Germany:

Companies with more than twenty employees must appoint safety delegates. The number is determined by the number of employees. If there are fewer than twenty employees, the Employer’s Liability Insurance can order the appointment under certain conditions.

Employers – i.e. all business owners who employ staff – must appoint works doctors and safety specialists. Their tasks are regulated by legislation and will be dealt with in detail in later articles.

The number of company doctors or safety specialists is not specified. The regulations of the employers’ liability insurance specify in detail the deployment times of these functions in hours per year. The deployment times are based on the number of employees and an assessment of the degree of exposure of the company, which is carried out on the basis of the classification in economic sectors.

Furthermore, there may be additional functions required by law, such as radiation protection or laser protection officers.

We know of functions that are not necessarily regularly active in health and safety, but nevertheless play an important role. Here I see first and foremost the first-aiders and fire protection or evacuation helpers.

We have already worked out the “normal” employees in the company and their roles earlier. I mention them again here for the sake of completeness.

​What does this mean for your company in specific terms?

Have you commissioned an safety specialist? Ask her the following questions. Of course, you can also ask your works doctor or safety delegate – or me:

  • do our employees know what their tasks and responsibilities are in health and safety?
  • do they know how to perform them
  • have the necessary functions been appointed and are they operating accordingly?
    (Safety officer, safety expert, works doctor)
  • do the responsible persons (managers) know their tasks and responsibilities, and do they fulfil them?
  • are the competencies of the managers defined?
  • are the tasks coordinated?
  • do I monitor the implementation and support my people in their tasks?

These few questions are already enough to get a good impression of how occupational safety is organized in your company. You will see quite fast in which areas you might need to take action or where you are well positioned.

​Conclusion, outlook on the next parts of the series

Organizing health and safety in the company, or questioning and optimizing the organization, not only has the direct advantages resulting from an improved organization. For example, more legal certainty or a deeper understanding of the mutual relationships between responsible and supporting functions. A better assessment by the entrepreneur of which legally required functions are there for the operation and how they can be used for an optimal result.

With the organizational structure, you lay the foundation for being able to meet your obligations in health and safety in a meaningful way. You will find out what these are and how best to deal with them in the next parts of this series of articles and in many other blog posts.