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Lashing straps for life.

At a workshop close to Frankfurt Airport, people with disabilities manufacture products for Lufthansa Cargo that are indispensable in securing cargo on board aircraft.

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Sarah Arnold occasionally pauses in her work. She listens to the engines of the planes cruising past high up in the sky. The 25-year-old stops her sewing machine, looks out the window and smiles. “It’s quite possible that one of my belts is flying past right now,” she says. She only stops for a moment, before she picks up the slack in the thread, positions the needle and lets the machine rattle on. Yet this brief scene tells the story of what Sarah Arnold finds so very important in her work: to accomplish something that is relevant for society at large. And thus to be part of it.

She is one of the many employees at the Werkstätten für Behinderte Rhein-Main e.V. (WfB) – an association of workshops for people with disabilities – which operates such workshops in three locations throughout the Hessian district of Groß-Gerau with a mission to assist and promote people with disabilities. The workshop in Mörfelden-Walldorf is one of them – located close to Frankfurt Airport.

Here some 100 workshop employees – people with disabilities – manufacture products that are indispensable when it comes to securing cargo on board Lufthansa Cargo aircraft: lashing straps, turnbuckles and fittings. Lashing straps are a favorite with the people working here. In addition to the production facilities, the building also houses a metal-working division where repairs are carried out on baggage trolleys, for example, or on the lighting system on the airport runways.

She is one of the many employees at the Werkstätten für Behinderte Rhein-Main e.V. (WfB) – an association of workshops for people with disabilities – which operates such workshops in three locations throughout the Hessian district of Groß-Gerau with a mission to assist and promote people with disabilities. The workshop in Mörfelden-Walldorf is one of them – located close to Frankfurt Airport.

Here some 100 workshop employees – people with disabilities – manufacture products that are indispensable when it comes to securing cargo on board Lufthansa Cargo aircraft: lashing straps, turnbuckles and fittings. Lashing straps are a favorite with the people working here. In addition to the production facilities, the building also houses a metal-working division where repairs are carried out on baggage trolleys, for example, or on the lighting system on the airport runways.

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Efficiency? Participation!

“When I started this job, the first thing I had to do was stop being a morning grump,” says Marcus Milz, laughing out loud. The workshop manager looks after the employees in Mörfelden-Walldorf together with a social worker and other specialist staff. Their work day starts at 7:45 a.m. First order of the day: switch on the radios – one in each of the production rooms. Their favorite station is hr4, “the feel-good radio station” of the public broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk. Singing along is part of the common agreement. 

Over the sound of machines starting up all around us, Milz explains: “Making each belt involves about 60 work steps. Stapling, inserting turnbuckles, printing, wrapping, sewing on the label...” Sounds like a lot? It is. “Of course, we could also use machines to replace some of the steps, combining several small steps into one big one. Working more efficiently, in other words,” says the workshop manager. “But that is not what it’s all about here.”

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Being a part of something is the name of the game. Doing something useful. No matter what type of disability people have. Like David-Lee Hennrichs, for instance. The 24-year-old sits in a wheelchair and has only very limited movement in his legs and feet: “When I started work here, I was very keen to sew belts,” he says. “On a machine that is normally operated using a foot pedal.” So the WfB went and modified the machine so that Hennrichs can operate it using his hands. And it has been his permanent workplace for the last two years.

Most of the funding for the workshop comes from the State Welfare Association of the state of Hesse and from the government employment agency. Special requests like the one from Hennrichs are mostly paid for by donations. “Without the support of charitable institutions and individuals, many of the extras we provide here would simply not be not doable,” emphasizes Milz. “But above all it is the sales revenue from our production – like the lashing straps we make for Lufthansa Cargo – that makes our work and the remuneration of the employees with disabilities possible in the first place.”

The Lufthansa subsidiary has been working with the WfB for almost 40 years. After the association was first commissioned by Lufthansa Cargo with the production of 10,000 lashing straps in 1981, the initial tenuous bond has developed into a solid partnership over the years. Today the carrier is their biggest customer – this year some 80,000 straps come out of the workshop for Lufthansa Cargo alone. And for good reason: the airfreight company is well aware of the unrivaled quality of these products. 

The straps can withstand far more than is legally required (see info box). Marcus Milz loves demonstrating that fact. He tests random samples from each batch of 20,000 straps in the in-house laboratory. He clamps a sample into the testing machine. “The cargo is subjected to enormous forces during the acceleration of the plane,” he explains. “This is what we simulate here in this machine.” The belt must not tear if the force is less than 22.25 kilonewtons (kN). This is the figure prescribed by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Milz starts up the machine. The number on the kN scale slowly climbs higher. Then... crack!

The strap snaps at 27.59 kN – way above the prescribed value. “Perfect,” he nods with satisfaction. “That corresponds roughly to the weight of a small truck.”

The test shows not only how well the straps perform. It also demonstrates that safety can go hand in hand with what people with physical and mental disabilities can achieve. In addition to the three breaks during the day – breakfast, lunch and afternoon coffee – the employees here in Mörfelden-Walldorf only work as much or as long as they are able to. “We don’t do piece work, nor do we have overtime,” says the workshop manager. The WfB ensures that they are always able to deliver simply by producing more and boosting their inventory when things become a little quieter. 3:45 p.m. on the dot signals the end of the work day. While the first of the employees are already outside waiting for their shared ride, a Lufthansa Cargo plane passes overhead. All eyes are up. No one says anything. But they are all well aware of the origin of whatever is holding the cargo up there in place. And as the freighter slowly disappears over the horizon, smiles of quiet satisfaction spread on their faces.

The Lufthansa subsidiary has been working with the WfB for almost 40 years. After the association was first commissioned by Lufthansa Cargo with the production of 10,000 lashing straps in 1981, the initial tenuous bond has developed into a solid partnership over the years. Today the carrier is their biggest customer – this year some 80,000 straps come out of the workshop for Lufthansa Cargo alone. And for good reason: the airfreight company is well aware of the unrivaled quality of these products. 

The straps can withstand far more than is legally required (see info box). Marcus Milz loves demonstrating that fact. He tests random samples from each batch of 20,000 straps in the in-house laboratory. He clamps a sample into the testing machine. “The cargo is subjected to enormous forces during the acceleration of the plane,” he explains. “This is what we simulate here in this machine.” The belt must not tear if the force is less than 22.25 kilonewtons (kN). This is the figure prescribed by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Milz starts up the machine. The number on the kN scale slowly climbs higher. Then... crack!

The strap snaps at 27.59 kN – way above the prescribed value. “Perfect,” he nods with satisfaction. “That corresponds roughly to the weight of a small truck.”

The test shows not only how well the straps perform. It also demonstrates that safety can go hand in hand with what people with physical and mental disabilities can achieve. In addition to the three breaks during the day – breakfast, lunch and afternoon coffee – the employees here in Mörfelden-Walldorf only work as much or as long as they are able to. “We don’t do piece work, nor do we have overtime,” says the workshop manager. The WfB ensures that they are always able to deliver simply by producing more and boosting their inventory when things become a little quieter. 3:45 p.m. on the dot signals the end of the work day. While the first of the employees are already outside waiting for their shared ride, a Lufthansa Cargo plane passes overhead. All eyes are up. No one says anything. But they are all well aware of the origin of whatever is holding the cargo up there in place. And as the freighter slowly disappears over the horizon, smiles of quiet satisfaction spread on their faces.

Unique in Germany

In 2016, the WfB was certified as a development operation by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and authorized as manufacturing organization by the German Federal Aviation Authority (LBA).

The charitable enterprise is one of only six enterprises worldwide, and the only one in Germany, that is licensed to manufacture straps that are certified in accordance with the most rigorous EASA standard.

 

Unique in Germany

In 2016, the WfB was certified as a development operation by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and authorized as manufacturing organization by the German Federal Aviation Authority (LBA).

The charitable enterprise is one of only six enterprises worldwide, and the only one in Germany, that is licensed to manufacture straps that are certified in accordance with the most rigorous EASA standard.

 

www.wfb-rhein-main.de

Photos: Jan Potente

www.wfb-rhein-main.de

Photos: Jan Potente