Expert Risk Articles

Risk assessment of a Mercedes-Benz truck plant

Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty has a worldwide team of risk engineers who support its clients in risk control and management of their risk. But how does a risk assessment actually work and what are the most important steps? Read a first-hand report on a risk visit at one of our large client's production plants in Wörth near Karlsruhe.

In a loss-control program, it's quite common to hold a preliminary meeting the evening before things get serious. The aim is to outline the expectations of the risk engineer and customer and determine the approach for the next days is a common practice. Having met during earlier inspections, Stefan Kippert, a risk engineer at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, and Eberhard Hess, the employee responsible for risk engineering in the property division of Daimler, have been working together for many years. The day begins at about 7:30 in the morning with a trip to Wörth. The first impression is overwhelming – with its nearly 2.5 million square meters, the plant resembles a small city. It even has its own heating supply station and wastewater-treatment facility.

The activities at the site are kicked off by the plant supervisor (or, in this case, a substitute for the supervisor) who greets all of the participants in the risk assessment. The Mercedes-Benz Wörth plant produces a huge variety of trucks and special-purpose vehicles such as the UNIMOG, often deployed as a municipal utility vehicle, and the Econic, frequently used as a garbage truck.


Risk assessment at the Wörth plant

Then things get serious, and the risk assessment group (consisting of the AGCS risk engineer, an employee from plant technical services, the head of plant safety and Eberhard Hess) enters the assembly line area. Stefan Kippert has inspected this plant before and thus knows exactly what to look out for. For him, the main hall is not only the heart of production, but also the core element in terms of risk management.

A sprinkler system protects the entire hall from fires. But, particularly when renovating, it’s important to think about risk management and retrofit the sprinklers, especially when scaffolding remains in place for a long time. It is fascinating to observe how the engineer carefully examines exactly those places the average person would walk right past – dazzled by the appeal of the huge commercial vehicles produced here.

From time to time, Stefan Kippert disappears into a machinery chamber or adjoining room, writes assiduous notes and asks the plant workers specific questions about the risk management of the various areas.

Involving the risk experts early on

Stefan Kippert explains: “For many new buildings, renovations and changes of use, Allianz Risk Consulting is already involved in the planning process. This is a huge advantage because we can introduce risk management considerations early in the development process. But after this point, too, small changes such as installing smoke alarms in containers can often contrib ute to overall safety.”

A significant part of production is paintwork: After assembly, the driver’s cabs are brought to the painting area where they have to show their colors. Now it gets exciting: Because of cleanliness standards, a protective suit is required, and visitors and workers alike must enter a wind booth where they are blown clean from head to toe. In general, painting vehicles is similar like with anything else: The first step is to degrease the cabs in various baths. Then the cabs are bathed in a cathodic dip painting, which is followed by a “filler” – the undercoating that evens out the surface. Only after these steps are complete will the layers of paint and final coat be applied that determine the actual color, which could be any one of more than 200 shades selected from the choices available.


Stefan Kippert makes sure that all pipes and tubes are in the right place

To some degree the process is fully automated: There are computer programs for the individual model specifications. This means the robots just have to recognize what model they are working with so they can activate the correct paint program. Here, fire protection primarily works through CO2 as solvents are in use. Although the amount of solvent-based paint continues to decline, such steps as the rinsing between the various colors still involves solvent.

Over 1 million configuration options

Truck production takes place at a fast clip on three assembly lines and parts such as tires, seats and dashboards are delivered “just in time” – which means there is barely any storage area. Production of specialpurpose vehicles looks a bit different. Here, a limited number of units are produced and the lion’s share of the work is finished by hand. For the non-specialist, a truck is a truck, but there’s actually a lot more to it.

Trucks licensed for the road are so steep to climb into that you can almost get dizzy doing it. In contrast, the Econic has an entrance as low as a city bus, which is one of the reasons it is often used as a garbage truck. The abundance of options is also reflected in the risk assessment: It just doesn’t make the grade to only inspect assembly, painting and interior finishing. Stefan Kippert must also check component manufacturing (e.g. drive-shaft production), the industry park where various Daimler suppliers are located and assorted warehouses like the hazardous-materials storage for flammable liquids. He also has to examine the new development and test center, the test stands for trucks and special-purpose vehicles, the sprinkler control center and the roof.

Going beyond spot checks

Asked whether the inspection of such a gigantic site can only be carried out using spot checks, he replies: “No. You certainly can’t look at everything, but as the insurer, we have the responsibility to go beyond spot checks. Of course there’s no such thing as 100 percent certainty, but we must cover as many contingencies as possible.” To achieve this, he will also calculate an initial “probable maximum loss” for the customer that will appear in his risk report. This calculation addresses the damage that occurs if a major element in the safety concept fails, for example if the primary sprinkler controller breaks down. This approach differs from “maximum foreseeable loss,” which is also calculated, in that it does not address the “worst case scenario” that assumes all safety-related equipment malfunctions.

After three days of risk inspection and somewhat tired legs, there’s still a highlight to come: A pump test is being held in one of the four existing sprinkler control centers. It’s getting really loud and really warm, but the pumps are delivering the goods. Stefan Kippert has examined the details of the existing test logs and would now like to directly experience the fire-extinguishing system to be convinced of its effectiveness. The Wörth plant enjoys the advantage that it has an almost unlimited supply of water because of its location on the Rhine River. But in an emergency, the water must, of course, be transported using pumps. A plant like Wörth has its own fire department. Wörth even has its own training facilities where not only the full-time professional fire fighters receive instruction, but also volunteer fire fighters who work at the plant.

An effective customer relationship is the key

At the final meeting, the risk consultant informs management about his observations. A remarkable experience that proves that an effective customer relationship built on a foundation of trust is the key factor of success. In general, the assessment of the plant has turned out to be positive – it constitutes a good example of successful risk management. Suggestions for improvements are discussed directly with the customer.


Allianz Risk Consultant