Ice and snow cause traffic chaos

The biting cold that has blanketed Germany in snow and ice caused chaos on the roads at the beginning of the weekend, killing at least two people and causing thousands of accidents, particularly in the west of the country.

Ice and snow cause traffic chaos
Photo: DPA

Two people were killed in the far-northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. And police in North Rhine-Westphalia counted more than 1000 weather-related accidents since the beginning of the snow falls on Friday afternoon.

The plummeting temperature caused the breakdown of the power plant for chemical firm BASF in Ludwigshafen in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The temperature at the Funtensee lake in Bavaria dropped to -33.6 degrees. Northern Germany’s highest peak, the Brocken in the Harz mountain range, had its coldest December night in 31 years: -21.7 degrees.

However the German Weather Service (DWD) is forecasting an end soon to the bitter cold, with warmer air replacing low pressure system Vincent by the end of Sunday. Temperatures were set to creep back above zero by Monday and climb to about 5 degrees on Wednesday.

Police said a 24-year-old female driver died in a collision near Neumünster in Schleswig-Holstein after she skidded on snow around a curve into the path of oncoming traffic. Similarly a 52-year-old man in the same state went onto the wrong side of the road and was killed in a collision. His wife suffered life-threatening injuries.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, 20 people were seriously injured and another 85 suffered milder injuries in accidents. The cost of accidents was estimated at about €2.5 million.

In an ice-covered carpark in the Mendig region of the Rhineland-Palatinate, a 39-year-old woman slid into parked car, shunting it into a truck and causing serious head injuries to the truck’s passenger.

Police in Bavaria counted more than 200 accidents overnight on Friday, causing several injuries, though none life-threatening.

Click here for The Local’s weather forecast.

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Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?