This text is written in an office with blinds on the windows, the temperature at the desk is just over 20 degrees. The road construction workers who were observed laying new paving slabs on their way to the editorial office in the morning can only dream of that. Or the musicians of the Staatskapelle, who recently played bravely in the open air on Bebelplatz in temperatures of up to 30 degrees in the shade. Or the police officers, who have to secure around 40 demonstrations and rallies in Berlin this weekend, many of them around the particularly hot midday, although they could just as easily be held in the morning or in the evening.
Outdoor workers have always been more exposed to the elements than indoor workers. What is new is the severity of the exposure: With the permanently increasing heat caused by climate change, the physical dangers are also increasing – from heat damage to the consequences of UV rays and ozone pollution. If you look at the weather maps of the past decades, you can clearly see that the number of hot days is constantly increasing.
Among the thousands of people who, according to statistics, die every year in Germany alone as a result of heat waves, there are also numerous outdoor workers. In recent years, those harvest workers to whom we owe our fresh strawberries and asparagus, among other things, have been particularly affected. Whatever the weather, they have to go out into the fields.
And this despite the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance stipulates that workplaces must not be warmer than 26 degrees and that employers are obliged to take action above 30 degrees. But experience shows that many bosses ignore their duty of care, many employees accept their fate in silence.
That is why the state is required here, which also gives the economy guidelines in other areas as to what decent work should look like: from minimum wages, where Berlin was the pioneer in public contracts, to protective workwear and corona prevention. Southern European countries like Spain have been showing how it could be done for decades: lunchtime is siesta time there.
When the temperatures are at their highest on summer days, there is no work for three hours. In Spain, however, this is not without controversy: Many employees, especially if they work in protected indoor spaces, now reject the compulsory break, also because it has the disadvantage that you have to work longer in the evenings.
But that doesn’t have to be a model for all sectors and every single employee, but protection for those who stick their heads out for all of us on hot days.
It would be a first step if Berlin started a model test and started a siesta at least for the hottest weeks of the year in some particularly affected sectors. Where it is not possible to grant employees the protective break, they will in future receive heat allowances, analogous to the bonus on public holidays – that would at least be a first step in recognizing their burdens and thanking them for them.