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A guideline paper ensures clarity in the body of OSH rules and regulations

On 31 August 2011, the institutions responsible for the Joint German OSH Strategy (GDA) and the social partners signed a new guideline paper. The paper has the purpose of optimizing the rules and regulations governing occupational safety and health. Duplicate regulations are to be avoided, the overhead for companies reduced, and the standard of occupational safety and health further enhanced. The guideline paper forms the basis for a comprehensible, clear and consistent body of rules and regulations.

Efficient protection of workers' health is not conceivable without statutory provisions. In Germany's dual system, comprising state OSH legislation and the autonomous charter of the accident insurance institutions, effective co-operation between the two sides will be the acid test for this system's fitness for purpose. The companies and also the labour inspectorates of the German regional governments and the accident insurance institutions are reliant upon practical guidance to the subordinate legislation. The guideline paper addresses this aspect and serves as a point of reference. It describes the scope of the legislative instruments available to the state authorities and the accident insurance institutions, and resolves existing conflicts at their interfaces.

With regard to the autonomous charter, the guideline paper substantiates the provisions of the German Social Code (Section 15 of SGB VII), according to which state OSH legislation takes priority and new accident prevention regulations (UVVs) must be assessed with regard to the need for them. The guiding principle of this assessment is the particular consideration of alternative regulatory instruments, such as state rules or rules of the accident insurance institutions (Rules of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) and of the agricultural social insurers (LSV)), which could achieve the prevention objective in the same way as UVV accident prevention regulations.

In order for the desired coherence to be reached on the regulatory level and for residual overlaps to be resolved, the guideline paper makes provision essentially for two instruments: the co-operation model and the combination model.

The co-operation model allows provisions of DGUV/LSV Rules which concern the scope of activity of a state committee to be included in the body of state regulations in a suitable way. In order to prevent the duplication of provisions, it is also possible for drafts of state rules to be formulated from the outset in a DGUV/LSV prevention committee. In both cases, the origin of the provisions is stated in the state rule. Assessment of the need for a particular rule and the decision concerning its adoption remain the prerogative of the state committee. The parts of the DGUV/LSV Rule adopted in the state rule are withdrawn from the former. When a state committee has decided that a rule requires updating, this task is carried out by the responsible prevention committee according to the procedure for creation of a new state rule.

The new combination model introduces Sectoral Rules of the Social Accident Insurance institutions as a sub-category of DGUV/LSV Rules. Sectoral Rules, which take the form of a compendium covering all hazards, provide companies with an overview of the rules and regulations applicable to their entire sector. Specifically under this model, risk-related rules for certain categories of company and public institution which have emerged within the activities of the state committees may be "translated" into Sectoral Rules and developed in the form of practical guides for specific sectors. In the process, the experience and knowledge of the accident insurance institutions can be called upon. Unlike the rules of the state committees, Sectoral Rules do not give rise to a presumption of conformity with the German OSH ordinances. Under this system of regulation, state rules and DGUV/LSV Rules are now assigned clear scope and corresponding functions of their own.

The new guideline paper brings the state and the accident insurance institutions closer together with regard to an important core element of the GDA, that of the creation of rules and regulations. The paper, which takes effect immediately, must now be implemented in practice. An important arena for this will be the state committees and the prevention committees of the accident insurance institutions. A further and important step is the checking of whether not only the rules and regulations described in the guidance paper but also standards have a role to play in the health and safety of workers at work.

Michael Koll