Mask obligation at the workplace: these rules apply

Stefan-Marc Rehm

The question of whether masks should also be compulsory in workplaces has been a constant concern for employers since the start of the Corona pandemic. Due to the ever increasing and decreasing incidence values since March 2020, occupational health and safety regulations are also being tightened and amended on a regular basis. Most recently, the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety regulation was issued on 22.11.2021 revised and applies for the time being until 19.3.2022.

The regulations of the respective federal state are particularly decisive for the question of whether masks are mandatory in the workplace. Nevertheless, federal-state resolutions have introduced minimum federal regulations. But what are the current regulations?

Development of mandatory masking during the pandemic

The question of whether there was a general obligation to wear a mask in the workplace was unresolved for a long time, leading to uncertainty among those affected. Until the federal-state decision on 25.11.In 2020, there was no general obligation to wear a mask in all workplaces and plants. Employers could, however, introduce a masking requirement in their company on the basis of their general right to issue instructions.

Mask obligation with exceptions

With the federal-state decision of 25.11.2020, introduced a basic requirement to wear mouth and nose coverings in workplaces and operational areas. However, this obligation is subject to exceptions: For example, a mask does not have to be worn at one’s own workplace if a minimum distance can be safely maintained. If this is the case, for example, in an individual office, the employee concerned can remove the mask at his or her workplace. Another example of the dispensability of a mask at the workplace is plexiglass devices, which can provide employees with equivalent protection.

Wearing a mask, on the other hand, is essential when employees move outside their workplace and especially when they come into contact with other employees or customers in the process.

The epidemic situation of national scope has not been further extended. Due to the increasing number of infections and the spread of the Omikron variant, the infection protection measures of the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety ordinance were extended to 19.3.2022 extended. In addition, new regulations on workplace infection control were included in Section 28b of the Infection Control Act, z.B. the 3G rule in the workplace.

Mask obligation in the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety regulation

The incidence of infection remains very high despite the measures taken in many areas of life. To further reduce this, the government sees a particular need here to further reduce the risk of infection in the workplace. For this reason, the federal and state governments have decided that further measures must be taken to ensure effective protection at the workplace. As a result, the decision made on 27. January, the new SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance (Corona-ArbSchV, last updated on 22.11.2021).

The control of the spread of the coronavirus should be ensured by other effective and coordinated measures. In addition to technical and organizational measures to reduce contact, employers must now also take more stringent precautions with regard to mouth and nose coverings. It is important to note that the existing regulations on the wearing of a respirator continue to apply. The provisions by the new Corona-ArbSchV merely concretize and supplement the existing regulations on the mask obligation.

Employers are required to specify activities and areas that are subject to mandatory mask use. This is done as part of the risk assessment to update the company hygiene concept. In principle, the wearing of a medical mask is necessary if the protection of employees cannot be adequately ensured by technical or organizational measures in the affected areas or during the performance of the activity. This is the case, for example, if the minimum distance of 1.50 meters from other persons cannot be maintained or if there is insufficient ventilation of the indoor areas.

Mask obligation: Employers must now provide protective masks

Following the evaluation of the risk assessment, employers must provide appropriate suitable medical masks. In principle, the costs must be borne by the employers, as the costs of occupational safety measures may not be imposed on the employees (Section 3 (3)). 3 ArbSchG). An exception exists in the case that employees can be provided with the appropriate masks free of charge by another body, z.B. from social insurance carriers.

Only FFP2 masks or medical masks now fulfill mask requirement

The masks provided must be medical devices of risk class I (Medical Device Regulation 2017/745). The masks must therefore comply with the legal requirements. As a rule, these are the already known medical masks or FFP2 masks.

Mask obligation – instruction of the employees

Employers are obliged to instruct their employees on how to put on and take off respiratory protection masks in order to achieve the corresponding protective effect of the medical mask. Medical masks are primarily used to protect others, as wearing them can prevent droplets from being excreted. Instruction on the correct use of the mask must be provided to avoid contamination of the hands or the mask, which could jeopardize the protective effect.

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