Bonum Certa Men Certa

European Patent Office (EPO) Has Serious Safety Issues, This New Report Highlights Some of Them

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Apr 21, 2024,
updated Apr 21, 2024

LOHSEC report

THE one-hour meeting (too short, as usual) that took place last month was summarised in a 9-page document that was released to staff a couple of days ago. Today we reproduce it below as plain text, GemText, and HTML:

Örtlicher Personalausschuss München Innenstadt, Haar und Brüssel
Local Staff Committee Munich City, Haar and Brussels
Le Comité local du Personnel de Munich Ville, Haar et Bruxelles

Munich, 18-04-2024
sc24011mp

Report on the 53rd Meeting of the Local Occupational Health,
Safety and Ergonomics Committee (LOHSEC)
on 13 March 2024

On 13 March 2024 the meeting took place with Staff Representatives of the LSC Munich (LSC MN), members of the Administration, health, safety and facility services, as well as a representative for the Boards of Appeal.

Present were Elodie Bergot (Chair; PD Welfare and Renumeration, EB), Roberta Romano-Götsch (Chief Sustainability Officer, RRG), Martina Moritz (Medical Advisor, MM), Jürgen Janda (Member of the Infrastructure Services, JJ), Stephanie Prest-Hutchinson (Member Occupational Health, SPH), Johannes de Bruin (Occupational Safety expert, JdB), Alexander Kirch (Occupational Safety, AK), Katja Warneck (Representative for BoA, KW), Evelyn Mülthaler (SR; Member of LSC MN, EM), Matthias Goebel (SR; Member of LSC MN, MG), Alyssa Drouault (Member of HR, AD), Edoardo d’Attilia (Young Professional HR, EdA).

The Chair thanked Johannes de Bruin for replacing Michael Böcker.

The meeting lasted from 10:30 to 11:30.

1 Report from the COHSEC

The Chair gave a short oral report on the COHSEC meeting of 22 February 2024. The main topics addressed during the COHSEC were as follows:

Statistics on sick leave for the full year 2023 were presented. The dashboard has been created and access will be given to all COHSEC members. The trend in the statistics is a clear decrease in sick leave for short and medium sickness. In DG 1 the trend is slightly different. The Office has also monitored the sick leave trends in the hosting countries of the EPO. There is a similar trend to the EPO with a general decrease, but still not at pre-covid levels.

ISO 45001 certification and EPO OHS management system (for information): The Office is applying the principles of ISO 45001. To ensure that the standards are met, an external certification provider will perform an audit every 2-3 years. At the end of the Audit, the EPO should receive a certificate. A first certification audit was conducted in 2020 and a second one took place in 2023 and the EPO was recertified.


One agenda point with several chapters was introduced by the COHSEC staff representative colleagues (C-SR) for information

- sick leave statistics: C-SR are concerned about the high numbers, mainly in DG1. A second concern is the non-granting of parental leave in DG1. C-SR would like to introduce a KPI to analyse the long-term statistics evolution. The COHSEC Chair mentioned that the EPO uses statistics that are included in several dashboards, and a slight decrease in Parental Leave can be observed.

- Software issues as a follow up to the topic presented by CIO Diego Eguidazu in December 2023 were also discussed.

- C-SR asked for statistics on eye problems of staff. The COHSEC Chair explained that information on diagnosis is confidential, the statistics are not reliable and clarified that Dr Schüder confirmed that this is not representative of the whole population of the EPO staff (since each staff has its own reason to check eyes, either age, diagnosis etc).

The SR added that eye problems should be very carefully monitored, in view of the heavy digitization with almost exclusive on-screen work. Furthermore, all kinds of part-time work appear to be discouraged at present. In this context MM and SPH noted that colleagues affected with eye- or other possibly work-related problems should contact OH to establish data on the extent of such problems within the staff population.

N.B.: SR notes again that only an oral presentation of figures and detailed findings was given, making it at times hard to follow and difficult to recall information; an accompanying document would seem appropriate.

2 Points raised by the Staff Representation members of the LOHSEC

2.1 As to the status of action points M 05/2023, AP 07/2023:

The following answer as to the status of said action points was provided by the administration and further explained:

Action point, EPO

Regarding AP 07/2023, the administration remarked that no measures are envisioned, no request for lockers having been received from staff. As work-around, it is suggested to book a public office for the day and use the (now) lockable cupboard therein.

N.B. M 05/2023: As presented to the Administrative Council (AC) in CA 13/24 (Strategic Plan 2028, link here), Annex 2: Building Investment Programme 2024-2028 (BIP), page 72: “Currently, the Office is operating on a ratio of 77 to 79 workplaces per 100 staff for our buildings in Munich and The Hague. Daily monitoring of the Office occupancy levels has shown that this is sufficient for the number of staff working from the buildings on any given day.” The planned building resources are thus to provide a maximum of 77-79 % occupancy, while the observed occupancy is 40-60 % on a monthly basis, reported to the AC as 50 %. While these numbers would suggest enough space and buffer on average, there are several caveats as mentioned in the table above. We do not believe that this simple calculation method via planning tool is the whole story, since the administration itself appears to be using much more conservative approaches as to observed building occupancy (see graphic in item 2.4: 33 and 37 % occupancy in Munich and The Hague, respectively). In a nutshell: if both methods leading to the incongruent results were comparable, it would mean that occupancy was considerably on the rise and a shortfall of capacity would be the expected result in the near future. If they were not comparable, it remained to be known, which numbers were the more dependable ones. However, despite repeated inquiries, we were not informed of any other calculation method beside the one relying on self-declaration in the planning tool.

2.2 As to the outlook for PH 1-4

The SR inquired once again about the outlook for PH 1-4 in the foreseeable future. The top three floors with plenty of office space continue to look like they’ve just been evacuated. There is absolutely no progress to be seen, just a disordered assemblage of rooms and abandoned office furniture.

The administration replied that this topic was not related to any health and safety issues. It nevertheless explained that the upper areas of PH 1-4 were closed and that “labels” would be put in place. Waiting for a decision of the Administrative Council, the future of PH 1-4 would still need to be defined. Thus, PH 1-4 would remain as it is until the works under way have been finalised in PH 5-6 (i.e. 2-3 years at least). It was assured that there were plenty of offices for a day at PH 1-4, anybody could have one, it was just a matter of careful planning.

The SR could not concur and mentioned directors and even a COO having been out of a room on occasion, i.e. there was indeed a shortage or at least another fault in the system.

N.B.1: we had inquired about the planning in PH 5-6 in the preceding LOHSEC of November 2023 (report here), i.e. only 4 months earlier, were it was stated that “neither concrete plans with technician involvement nor a presentation to the President having taken place yet”.

N.B.2: The “decision of the Administrative Council”, in the meantime taken in the affirmative, concerned the same CA 13/24 (link here), see BIP, pages 71 et seq, especially page 78:


“While carrying out mandatory safety works in Munich PschorrHöfe 5-6, the Office will use this opportunity to implement a daylight concept, along with collaborative areas and a contemporary workplace setup similar to the Office standard implemented in the Isar, Main and Vienna buildings.”

EPO outcomes

The possible destiny as real estate object (for sale? to rent?) outlined in the last paragraph on page 78 was not even hinted at in this LOHSEC, despite the very specific SR question as to the outlook for PH 1-4. This information policy is with very limited transparency.

2.3 As to the status of the caterers in the canteens Munich

The SR inquired about the status of the caterer(s) in the MN canteens and cafeterias (Isar, PH 1- 4, BT 8). It regretted that there is no separate canteen committee to discuss such matters.

The administration replied that, as indicated on 21 October 2021 in a letter to the Local staff committee, there was no canteen committee anymore. The tender procedure was in final status and staff would be informed soon of the outcome.

N.B.: As announced on the Intranet (11 March 2024; here), a new caterer has been selected to start service as of 2 May 2024. A point worthy of consideration in view of CA 13/24 (BIP) above will be how our present canteen would fit into an empty PH 1-4, let alone into a rented or sold one?


2.4 As to presenting rolling occupancy rates

The SR reiterated its inquiry as to whether it would it be possible to show the rolling occupancy rates of the EPO sites again. It would be interesting to see any recent trends vs the last available figures back in October 2022 (see also AP M 05/2023). We note that the figures and graphic presented are the exact same as in the fall of 2023.

EPO BTT

(https://intranet.epo.org/the-office/new-ways-working/bringing-our-teams-together)

The administration replied, referring inter alia to the previous LOHSEC meeting, item 2.4 therein (report here), as well as to the statements in AP M 05/2023 above.

The SR reiterated that such presentation must be clear, in particular the determination method, and consistent; these requirements applied all the more now that renting out plans are on the table once again, “depending on occupancy” of PH 1-4.

N.B.: See CA 13/14 and BIP supra, those plans are officially on the table now. The same graphic is still to be seen on the Intranet.

2.5 As to glass walls in PH: sustainability, health and safety considerations

The SR inquired, inspired by knowledgeable colleagues, how the foreseen generous installation of flat glass walls in the PH buildings, notably in PH 5-6 but possibly also in PH 1-4, reads on sustainability and savings on energy as well as CO2 emissions.

Flat glass is the most energy intensive type of glass (cf Energy Conversion and Management: X 10 (2021) 100 083), to wit: “The glass industry is part of the energy-intensive industry posing a major challenge to fulfil the CO2 reduction targets of the Paris Climate Agreement”:


Official energy material

The Health and Safety aspect would come in since either the colleagues would have to work on a construction site for a prolonged period of time and/or experience (several?) removals to yield to construction sites, adding to stress they may already experience managing their workload. Finally, the amount of daylight reaching the hallway was minimal, below that of the ISAR building and far below the occupational safety norms applicable in DE (which would need to be respected according to the PPI). There was hence nothing to be gained in compensation.

The administration explained that once there was construction work, the building stayed empty (i.e., no staff working on that site). Regarding the glass walls, the administration made a general remark, confirming that every construction work done was compliant with the applicable legislation. Concerning daylight, the Office was monitoring the situation. In the Isar building, light was automatically switched on when it was need, between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m., while in Pschorr it still needed the human intervention. For the future of PH 1-4, the Administration answered that the building is “in line with” SP 2028.

N.B.: See BIP in CA 13/24 supra, in particular page 78: PH 1-4 is not foreseen to be fitted with glass walls, thus construction will be restricted to PH 5-6. The heavy environmental footprint of glass walls was not called into question.


2.6 As to longer-term lockers

The SR inquired whether it would be possible to have longer-term lockers or similar for visitors to the fitness room in BT 8, at least for those without a permanent office?

The administration specified that lockers in the sports area were only for short-term usage (i.e., while practicing sport). For staff with an allocated office, it was possible to use the personal storages in the office. For non-allocated offices, staff could request a locker in other areas of the buildings via Serviceline, or book an office for a day and use the lockable closet therein, as per AP 07/2023.

2.7 As to printers and data protection

The SR noted that even for copying a document, users needed to log on to the new printers. Was the reason merely for counting the number of pages printed out (such statistics were already retrieved at employee level)? Or was it for further purposes like keeping a copy of the scan? This would be an issue, since frequently medical records were copied or scanned, like documents for CIGNA.

The administration replied that this question did not refer to a Health & safety issue but explained that there is no function to memorize scans. However, personal documents should be printed at home, to be on the safe side.

2.8 As to possible consequences of digitization of medical documents

The SR inquired about possible consequences, should DE expand its drive for digitization of medical documents (e.g. prescriptions, medical certificates), with a view to how this would be reflected in cards issued by Cigna (or any new provider). Furthermore, how would this data be processed? Have there been any discussions yet, especially in view of the present tender for health insurance provider?

The administration replied that this is not a topic in the scope of the LOHSEC, explaining that the sub-group of the GCC on healthcare insurance was more appropriate for these kinds of questions. The EPO would monitor the situation so that the staff did not encounter any difficulties with their medical documents. Moreover, the Office had KPIs to monitor the performance and the members’ satisfaction with the current healthcare insurance administrator, showing positive results in terms of timeliness and quality of the service provided.

2.9 As to orientation in the underground garages

The SR noted that it had reports from people lost in the underground parking and in buildings, by virtue of ambiguous designations and/or sealed doors, in particular in the large parking space below PH 5-6. The space was accessible by vehicle despite building closure but all building doors were deactivated. To avoid panic in some people, would it be possible to put up signs pointing to the next usable door (i.e. with a working badge reader, for ordinary staff)?

The administration replied that it would take into consideration the point raised by SR and install labels/signs. In the meantime, in case someone was lost, the emergency buttons (green box with push button) were active in the entire parking, and the evacuation rooms were functioning, as well as the emergency plan. In any case, even if ending up in a closed building, the escape routes leading out of them were always available.


2.10 As to building safety: underground garage

The SR inquired why the taped-off area in the underground garage had been declared safe again, despite no works having been performed on it?

then (2022),

EPO 2022 wreck

and now: nothing closed off any more.

EPO present wreck

The administration thanked SR to have informed them about the removal of these labels and recommend to SR to directly contact ServiceLine for similar events, without waiting for the next LOHSEC. This would allow an immediate intervention.

2.11 As to safety: fire alarms

The SR inquired whether a report on the fire-alarms of last December at PH existed, i.e. as to the causes, and why there was no foreseen evacuation of crèche children (foreseen in the safety concept including a bus pick-up)?

In reply, the administration confirmed that kids from the crèche were evacuated and took note to verify the safety concept in case of fire alarm for the crèche (NEW AP 01/2024).


2.12 As to health: emergency supply of women’s hygiene products

The SR inquired whether it would be possible to have an emergency supply of women’s hygiene products in the ladies rooms or at least in the first-aid boxes throughout the buildings?

The administration considered this point and will perform a benchmark with other IOs on the topic, in addition to a feasibility and cost assessment. It will probably only be possible in some floors of the Office. SPH informed that OH waiting areas have dispensers for such emergency supplies.

N.B.: In the meantime an Intranet announcement points to the OH waiting rooms: ISAR 685 and PH 2308.

Your representatives of the Local Staff Committee Munich (LSCMN)

Pay closer attention to the part about renting out the EPO's buildings. The EPO is dismantling itself while acting like a rogue bank; is it going to also enter the real estate business? Anything for money?

When this report was disseminated to staff the tone was different (more direct):

Dear Colleagues,

On 13 March 2024, staff representation met with the administration in the Local Occupational Health, Safety and Ergonomics Committee (LOHSEC) in Munich.

Among the topics addressed were the closed floors of PH1-4, sickness statistics, building occupancy, software issues, lockers, printers and digitization of medical documents.

In particular, staff representation inquired how the foreseen installation of flat glass walls in the PH buildings, notably in PH 5-6 but possibly also in PH 1-4, reads on sustainability and savings on energy as well as CO2 emissions. According to the available literature, the glass industry is part of the energy-intensive industry posing a major challenge to fulfil the CO2 reduction targets of the Paris Climate Agreement and flat glass is even the most energy intensive type of glass.

Read more in our report.

PS: At the time of the meeting, management had not mentioned the planned discontinuation of paper files announced suddenly on 26 March 2024 for implementation on 1 April 2024 during Easter Holidays.

Sincerely yours,

The Local Staff Committee Munich - LSCMN

About that PS, the Dutch site made a joke about it. They also eliminate printing/printers, resulting in reduced productivity [1, 2].

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