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Coronavirus - Health and safety concerns for workers - France

  • France
  • Coronavirus - Country overview
  • Coronavirus - Workforce issues

29-04-2020

The government has announced that the lockdown in France will come to an end from 11 May 2020. However, this does not mean returning to normal because it is expected that the Covid-19 pandemic will have effects for a long time.

This is an opportunity for us to review the good health and safety practices by means of Q&As, to allow employers to continue or resume their activity. Indeed, health and safety concerns must not be neglected as some employers have learned at their expense when judges have forced them under penalty to take measures to better protect employees.

What are employers’ health and safety duties in France?

Employers have a safety obligation (enhanced best-effort obligation) requiring them to take all necessary measures to guarantee the health and safety of workers.

To that end, employers must, inter alia:

  • assess the risk to health and safety, then
  • implement:

(i) preventive actions to avoid or reduce the risk if it cannot be avoided
(ii) working methods that ensure the highest level of protection for health and safety. The assessment results should be included in the single risk assessment document (document unique d’évaluation des risques)

Employers should also make sure that the measures are adapted to changing circumstances, in particular to health recommendations and knowledge about Covid-19.

Workers’ information and training are key aspects in any proper preventive approach.

It is essential that the measures implemented be formalised, so as to be able to justify them if need be (court action, control of the labour inspectorate, etc.).

What is the single risk assessment document?

All employers must assess the risks to the health and safety of workers given the nature of the establishment’s activity. The risk assessment results by work unit must then be transcribed in a single risk assessment document (document unique d’évaluation des risques - DUER). Depending on the risks identified, employers should then implement an action plan to address such risks (corrective actions, training, etc.).

It is thus essential for all employers to update their DUER due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting new risks.

This document can be updated in conjunction with several stakeholders (occupational doctor, health and safety at work commission, Carsat prevention agent) and should give rise to a prior information and consultation of the Social and Economic Committee. Workers have to be informed about the updated DUER.

This is a key tool to limit the risk of incurring employers’ liability.

Which stakeholders need to be involved?

It is essential to set up a crisis unit in the company at central and local levels in order to define and implement an appropriate identification/preventive and risk management policy.

This unit should work in cooperation with various stakeholders, such as:

  • the occupational medicine departments
  • the Social and Economic Committee who has extended powers in this area. In particular, it must be consulted on collective decisions affecting employees or on changes to the DUER. Please note that the deadlines for consulting the Social and Economic Committee on Covid-19-related topics have been adapted (Order of 22 April 2020 no. 2020-346)

What measures has the government announced with a view to ending the lockdown?

On 28 April 2020, the government has made general announcements on how lockdown will progressively end as from 11 May 2020.

Some of the measures announced relate to health and safety, such as:

  • remote working will have to continue for at least 3 weeks
  • facial masks will have to be provided if physical distance at the workplace cannot be guaranteed (at least 1 meter)

Employers should take those recommendations into account in their broader approach of health and safety at work.

In practice, what measures should be implemented?

There is no exhaustive list of measures to be implemented. They should be defined in-house, particularly depending on the nature of the activity and the risk of exposure to Covid-19.

Options that could be considered and adjusted based on the activity:

  • informing employees on existing measures (information note, meetings, etc.)
  • training on measures set up (“protective measures” (“gestes barrières”)
  • protective tools, if need be, etc.)
  • encouraging the use of non-collective transport means
  • preventing unnecessary move
  • working with on-site stakeholders to set up a joint preventive approach and informing external stakeholders
  • rearranging premises and schedules to limit contacts (organising the movement of people, reviewing access to lifts, reducing the number of people in each office, making access more fluid to limit contacts, etc.)
  • giving priority to continue teleworking when possible
  • setting-up processes to limit the risks based on the nature of the activity (ground marking, Plexiglas plates, etc.)
  • defining an action plan in case of suspected or proven contamination (information of workers, cleaning, etc.) to be included in the DUER
  • considering the possibility of setting up a temperature check at the site entrance. A number of guarantees should however be set up (no data processing, procedure for attaching a memorandum to the internal rules, information of workers, etc.)
  • anticipating the new risks associated with the adaptation of activities (such as psychosocial risks in connection with working conditions in an environment exposed to risks or in connection with the use of teleworking)
  • taking suitable measures for so-called ‘vulnerable’ people (informing them of existing sick leaves, etc.). The list of vulnerable people is defined by the Haut Conseil de la Santé Publique
  • taking measures to prevent the virus from spreading (cleaning, preventive measures, hydroalcoholic gel, disinfecting wipes, in particular if work tools are shared)
  • implementing a teleworking policy (managers’ training, awareness on the right to disconnect, etc.)

Where can I find further information on worker safety in France?

A number of practical documents have been published and are updated on a regular basis to help you identify and prevent risks.

In particular, you can visit the following websites:

  • site of the French Ministry of Labour with Covid-19-dedicated pages (Q&As, job tips sheets and guides for employers and employees, French-English bilingual information leaflet, etc.)
  • site of INRS (information on Covid-19, more general information on DUER, etc.)

You can also view our English webinar here to help you anticipate your employees’ return to work.

Furthermore, some industries such as metallurgy have prepared practical guides.

However, all these tools are only intended to help you with your approach and cannot replace the development of a tailored internal risk identification and prevention policy.

We would of course be pleased to assist you with this approach.

For more information contact

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