6,000 Bikes and a Firefighter - Wacker Chemie AG


6,000 Bikes and a Firefighter

If someone were to compile a list ranking the most bike-friendly businesses, then no doubt WACKER in Burghausen would feature near the top: Employees cycle to and from meetings, site inspections, back to the workplace or to the parking lot using a fleet of just over 6,000 bikes. A small team from the plant fire department keeps the bikes in peak condition.

Inside the Burghausen bike workshop: (from the left) Benjamin Peter, Michael Bichler, Otto Sallerspeck and Martin Wirth.

Otto Sallerspeck knows the safety check-list like the back of his hand: He quickly and routinely picks up the silver, 28-inch bike and attaches it to two brackets hanging from the ceiling. He checks the frame for rust damage, cranks the pedals and tests the saddle, the brakes and the front and back lights. Fifteen minutes later he fixes a security sticker to the frame. The bike has passed the safety check.

Once a year, each company bike ends up with Otto Sallerspeck and his colleagues in the workshop for a “bike roadworthy test”. “On average I test nearly 20 bikes a day,” says the 49-year-old, “and have done so for the last ten years.” He rectifies minor defects himself, for instance when the lights or saddle need replacing. An external company takes care of larger repairs. In such cases Sallerspeck gives his customers a bike on loan.

“I get people coming to me from all departments, from apprentices to managers – and I get to know them all,” says Otto Sallerspeck explaining what he loves about his job. The bike workshop is just one of the many services performed by the plant fire department when they aren’t busy contending with emergencies or doing practice exercises. Of course in the case of an emergency call out, Sallerspeck locks up the workshop and heads out onto the site with his colleagues. If the bikes then start to pile up, he receives support from his colleagues in the workshop responsible for testing the fire extinguishers.

“Each shift there are at least 17 out of a total of 76 of my staff members on site – and at least one of them works in the bike workshop,” explains Dr. Niels Friede, head of the department for emergency services and fire protection. The 42-year-old decided a while ago that all new bikes should be fitted with puncture-proof tires, even if they are somewhat more expensive. “But this way we avoid between 200 and 300 breakdowns a year,” says Friede adding: “Since last year we have only bought new ladies’ bikes, which are safer than men’s bikes because it’s easier to get on and dismount.”

But who is actually entitled to a company bike? “If it’s not possible to use one of the bikes we have in stock, in principle, any employee can request a company bike through their supervisor,” says Friede, “the applications then get sent to us and we order the bike.” And if anyone has a problem with the standard 28-inch size it’s even possible to place a special order for smaller bikes.

Most employees are so pleased with their company bike that they never want to part from it. But this can sometimes also lead to problems. “There have been cases when a bike has failed its safety check,” explains Friede, “but the owner claims it’s in perfect condition.” In this kind of scenario, Friede has to get involved personally and explain to the workshop’s customers that sometimes “hazard prevention” can also mean that a company bike has to be scrapped.