Pandemic: Corona occupational safety poses major challenges, especially for small businesses

With a mask at work

The corona pandemic is forcing companies to take special precautionary measures.

(Photo: dpa)

Berlin With the 3G rule, companies will be faced with new control and documentation obligations from this Wednesday. Employees who cannot work from home are only allowed to be vaccinated, recovered or tested at their workplace. The Sars-CoV-2 occupational safety rule, which came into force in August 2020, posed major challenges, especially for small businesses.

This shows a new expertise of the Research Advisory Board of the Plattform Industrie 4.0 on the implementation of the pandemic measures in the manufacturing industry. The larger the company, the more advanced is the implementation of occupational safety, as more human and financial resources can be made available.

The Vocational Research and Consulting Institute for Interdisciplinary Technology Design (BIT) also examined the role that technical solutions can play in adapting to the pandemic situation. The basis of the expertise was partially standardized interviews with executives and specialists and an online survey among around 60 executives, specialists and works councils.

In order to ensure occupational safety even in pandemic times, companies must prepare a risk assessment, ensure that employees keep a distance and avoid contact, and introduce hygiene measures.

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After the investigation, the majority of companies reacted to the dangerous situation with, for example, changed working hours and break regulations, a shifted start of the shift, lower workplace density or technical protective measures. In more than 90 percent of the companies from the online survey, a crisis team was formed and the occupational safety specialist was closely involved. In a good 60 percent of the companies, a special company or service agreement for working under pandemic conditions has been drawn up.

Technological solutions from Industry 4.0 hardly play a role

The home office is common practice in almost all companies. However, employees complained that they lacked social contacts for professional and personal exchange. A company agreement for working from home is only in place in a good 40 percent of companies, and it is planned in around a fifth. This can lead to dissatisfaction if, for example, when working from home for a long period of time, requirements for ergonomic workplace design cannot be met or no clear regulation has been made on the organization of working hours.

The companies are “mostly well equipped” to face the risk of infection from Corona, says Thomas Bauernhansl from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Automation, which is a member of the research advisory board of the Industry 4.0 platform.

However, when it comes to the implementation of occupational health and safety regulations, from large companies to medium-sized companies to small businesses, a gap in the status of implementation can be observed. It is important that not only managers but also health and safety specialists and works councils are involved and that they are informed transparently.

Industry 4.0 technologies can also be used to minimize the risk of infection. One example is cloud computing, in which the server provides the computing power so that complex tasks such as the computer-aided design of complex components can also be carried out from the home desk using CAD programs.

According to the study, however, such technologies have so far only been used sporadically, for example the use of remote assistance in the context of home offices. The experience from the pandemic showed “that the companies are often still at the very beginning on the way to the introduction of these technologies into operational practice,” says the expertise.

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