Stuffy air in the office, oppressive temperatures in factory halls and on construction sites: according to a survey, almost a quarter of employees in Germany feel severely affected by the heat while working. 23 percent reported such a high burden in the survey commissioned by the health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit, which was presented on Friday in Berlin. That’s around ten million people. The summer of 2024 is already approaching. And health experts are already eyeing heat as a burning issue.

DAK boss Andreas Storm said: “Heat is the biggest health risk in Germany caused by climate change – also for employees.” When it comes to climate and heat protection, a shift in awareness and more education are necessary. “A broad alliance of actors must work for a resilient working world that is sustainable for both people and the environment.”

For the “DAK Health Report”, the opinion research institute Forsa surveyed around 7,000 employees between the ages of 18 and 65 between August 22 and September 8, 2023. All counts and analyzes were carried out by the Iges Institute based on the raw data set taken over from Forsa. In addition, other data sources were used for the report. Among other things, the data from 2.4 million employed DAK insured people were evaluated.

Heat waves affect working conditions

According to the survey, around 69 percent of employees see extreme temperatures limiting their performance. 19 percent have heat-related health problems. “Our report shows alarmingly how heatwaves are already affecting working conditions and impacting employees’ well-being, health and performance,” said Storm.

According to the survey from August/September 2023, certain professional groups are particularly often impaired in hot weather. Of the nursing staff surveyed, 49 percent said they were under a lot of stress. In the construction industry or in the trades it was 28 percent. Overall, working in high temperatures often leads to reduced performance: A good half of those surveyed (53 percent) said they were not as productive as usual. 42 percent said they had difficulty concentrating in high heat.

According to the survey, 19 percent of all employees have health problems due to extreme temperatures. “It is alarming that almost one in five employees knows of heat-related health problems,” said Volker Nürnberg, who accompanied the report as an expert in corporate health management. Companies would have to quickly adapt all work processes to heat waves and take measures to protect employees.

Action mandate for politics and business

According to the survey, measures for coolness and shade are already widespread and are widely used by employees. Almost three quarters can therefore cool the place of work by darkening or shading: almost 70 percent say they take advantage of the option when it is hot. Nevertheless, 28 percent of employees worry that their company is not adequately prepared for recurring heat waves in the long term.

Maike Voss, executive director of the Center for Planetary Health Policy, sees the report as a mandate for politics and business to take action. “We already experienced the first heat records in the spring of 2024. Now it’s high time to prepare for a hot summer at work.” To do this, companies need to know exactly which employees are particularly at risk and which protective measures are effective and tested.

National heat protection plan

The federal government and medical experts have also taken a closer look at heat risks. Last year, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) activated a national heat protection plan for the first time, which, among other things, provides for more public information, more preparation and direct tips from family doctors. The focus is also on education and support in nursing homes and clinics.

A second nationwide “Heat Action Day” is also planned for June 5th. The initiative includes, among others, the German Medical Association, the Workers’ Welfare Association, the German Hospital Association and the statutory health insurance companies. According to the initiators, events and campaigns are planned in several cities that will focus on heat protection for families and older people.