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GERMANY: Legislation on occupational diseases is evolving

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Various amendments to Book VII of the Social Code concern legislation on occupational diseases. They will enter into force on 1 January 2021. What will be the most important consequences for insured persons?

Occupational diseases are that included in the list of which are caused by specific nuisances and to which certain categories of people are exposed through their work to a significantly higher degree than the rest of the population. These include for example occupational dermatoses, noise-induced deafness and asbestos-related lung cancer. As accident insurance bodies, BGs and public-sector accident insurance funds cover the costs of treatment, rehabilitation and compensation for victims of occupational diseases.

Abolition of the obligation to stop working

Until now, certain occupational diseases(1) can only be recognised if the concerned person abandons the activity that caused the disease. This precondition for the recognition of the disease as an occupational disease will be abandoned as of next year. The BGs and the public-sector accident insurance funds are stepping up preventive action for insured persons suffering from these diseases and offering them, where appropriate, “individual preventive measures”. This could be a seminar on skin protection or targeted back training, for example. These measures serve to combat the development, aggravation or reappearance of the occupational disease in question.

Retroactivity of regulations

The abolition of the obligation to stop occupational activity also applies to cases that occurred in the past. The accident insurance bodies examine retroactively to 1997 all cases where it would have been necessary, medically speaking, to give up the activity causing the illness but where the insured persons did not wish to give it up. If the illness diagnosed at the time still exists after 1 January 2021, it can be recognised as an occupational disease from that date. Any resulting claim for benefits will be examined separately. In addition, insured persons for whom it was not medically necessary in the past to stop working for the occupational diseases covered by the obligation to give up work may have their case re-examined.

Determination of exposure

The recognition of an occupational disease presupposes that the insured persons have been exposed to nuisances at work. In the case of asbestos-related cancer for example, it must be proven that asbestos fibres were released in the course of work and inhaled by the patients. When examining these nuisances, accident insurance bodies take into account not only the workplace concerned but also the results obtained for comparable workplaces or activities. This is particularly useful when workplaces no longer exist. What is new is that BGs and public sector accident insurance funds will in future be able to use data from all agencies to pool knowledge about exposures in comparable workplaces.

(1) Occupational illnesses covered by the obligation to stop work

Diseases caused by isocyanates (BK 1315)
Diseases of tendon sheaths, peritendinous tissue or tendon or muscle insertions (BK 2101)
Vibration-induced circulatory disorders of the hands (BK 2104)
Discopathies of the lumbar spine caused by carrying heavy loads for many years or by working for many years in a posture involving extreme flexion (BK 2108)
Discopathies of the cervical spine caused by carrying heavy loads on the shoulder for many years (2109)
Discopathies of the lumbar spine caused by whole-body vibrations (BK 2110)
Obstructive diseases of the respiratory tract caused by allergenic substances (BK 4301)
Obstructive diseases of the respiratory tract caused by irritating or toxic chemicals (BK 4302)’.
Skin diseases (BK 5101).

Press release of the DGUV (in German)

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