Obligatory masks at the workplace: these rules apply

How can bosses implement the mandatory wearing of masks at work?

When must employees still wear a face mask at work? Which masks are mandatory? And must employers provide them? A current overview.

Home-office duty is over, but the federal government is sticking to stricter rules in the workplace for now to limit the risk of infection. The SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance has been revised – with the First Ordinance Amending the SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance. The updated version is now valid until 24. November. Important for entrepreneurs: Masks continue to be part of the standard occupational safety inventory. What you should know about it.

Contents: What you can expect in this article

Under what conditions are masks mandatory in the workplace??

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance, which was revised at the beginning of September, employees must always wear a mouth guard if

  • the minimum distance of 1.50 meters cannot be maintained or
  • there is an increased aerosol emission at work.

In the opinion of labor law experts, increased aerosol emission is to be feared, for example, during physically strenuous work, but also when speaking loudly on the telephone.

Until the end of June, masks were mandatory as soon as more than one person per 10 square meters was present. This regulation has been dropped, the decisive factor is the minimum distance of 1.50 meters – in addition, employees must ventilate regularly.

Who pays for the masks?

Since the employer must ensure occupational safety in the company, he must also provide sufficient masks. Just as he must pay for the cost of safety helmets or fire extinguishers as part of his duty of care.

According to estimates by the Federal Ministry of Labor, companies must expect weekly additional costs of a maximum of 31.50 euros per employee.

Which masks must be worn?

According to the regulation, employees must wear at least one medical face mask. Of course, FFP2 masks or comparable respirators are also permitted. Everyday fabric masks do not meet the requirements of the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety regulation.

An overview of all mask types and the exact differences can be found on the homepage of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices.

What to consider when using FFP masks?

Particle-filtering half masks, so-called FFP masks, serve primarily to protect the mask wearer from particles, droplets and aerosols. They come in three protection levels: FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. The WHO and the Robert Koch Institute recommend at least protection level 2.

It is important to distinguish between FFP masks with and without an exhalation valve. Masks without a valve serve to protect third parties, as not only the inhaled air but also the exhaled air of the wearer is filtered. Breathing masks with exhalation valves may therefore only be worn if all persons present are also wearing such a breathing mask.

To protect against counterfeiting, employers should look for certification when making a purchase. The CE mark with a four-digit identification number can be found on the packaging. It indicates that the mask has gone through a successful verification process and which agency has verified. In the Nando database of the European Union, you can check to which testing body the respective number belongs to. The 0158 stands for Dekra, for example.

You will also find the letters "R" or "NR" on the mask. "R" means that the mask can be reused. Masks marked "NR" should only be worn once.

What should be considered when using me-di-zi-nic face masks??

Medical face masks, sometimes called surgical masks, are primarily used for external protection. They reduce the amount of droplets excreted when speaking or coughing.

While they do not protect against the inhalation of aerosols, they do prevent the direct impingement of exhaled droplets from the person in front of you. They also protect against transmission through contaminated hands.

You should also look for the CE mark on medical masks. In contrast to FFP masks, the certificate for medical masks is issued by the manufacturer itself and therefore does not have an identification number of a testing institute.

When to take recovery breaks?

Since the masks make breathing difficult, workers should take regular rest breaks. Legally, however, these are then not considered full work breaks, but only a phase in which the mask does not have to be worn. Activities that can be performed without mouth-nose coverings are therefore still possible. There is no requirement to provide additional recovery breaks.

In a guideline, the German Accident Insurance recommends the following wearing times for moderately heavy physical work:

  • FFP masks without a breathing valve: Wear masks for 75 minutes, followed by a 30-minute break.
  • FFP masks with breathing valves: Wear for two hours and then take a break of 30 minutes.
  • Surgical masks: Two hours of wearing followed by a 30-minute break.

For light work, it is possible to extend the wearing time to 3 hours.

How often should the masks be changed??

Mouth-nose coverings should be changed when they become damp – but at the latest daily, to keep the risk of infection low. For contacts close to the body (for example, during therapy sessions), the mask must be replaced before each new client is seen.

What if team members refuse to wear a mask?

If an employee refuses to wear a face mask even after repeated requests, he or she is in breach of his or her employment contract obligations. In doing so, he risks a warning – and in repeated cases, possibly even dismissal. However, employers should be consistent and not issue warnings out of the blue. It is important to make it clear early on that you will not tolerate ongoing mask violations. And even more importantly, bosses themselves should set a good example.

What applies in the case of a medical certificate?

If someone in the team cannot wear the mask for health reasons, they are not acting in breach of their contractual obligations. In this case, creativity is required, for example, in room allocation. Managers can change the seating arrangement to ensure that the person concerned does not come into contact with colleagues and customers.

But even despite a medical certificate, employers can dismiss employees under certain circumstances: The Regional Labor Court in Cologne ruled in April that a city hall was allowed to fire an administrative employee despite a valid medical certificate. It did not want to let the employee continue to work without a mask because he had a lot of customer contact and endangered both visitors and other employees. Home office was not an option. According to the court, the decisive factor for the ruling was that the balance of interests between the employee and the general public was in favor of the latter – because the visitors and colleagues were to be protected from infection (ruling of 12.4.2021, 2 SaGa 1/21).

Must check that everyone in the team adheres to the mask requirement?

Employers are required by occupational health and safety law to monitor safety precautions in the company – and this includes masks. Of course, complete monitoring is not possible, otherwise entrepreneurs will not be able to do anything else. But you should at least check randomly – and document the entire process in writing. So they can prove that the masks were procured and the team was informed about the correct handling of them.

What sanctions employers face if they fail to comply with the regulations?

The occupational health and safety authorities of the federal states are responsible for monitoring Corona measures in companies. Thus it is to have given recently also unannounced controls in enterprises. Violations can be sanctioned in principle. The amount of the penalty depends on the nature and extent of the violation. The Occupational Health and Safety Act provides for fines of a maximum of 30.000 euros.

In addition, business owners who demonstrably disregard Corona regulations in the workplace may be liable for potential damage to the health of their employees as a result of an infection.

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