Demographic changes also effect the logistics industry – BMW’s answer

Last time we also talked about safety in logistics. Since we already had a very informational and interesting blog post about warehouse safety, I was wondering whether older and younger people need to be considered differently regarding safety. Are older workers responsible for more accidents e.g. in warehouses than younger workers? And if so, do we have a problem because of our changing demographics? To answer this question, I really found some interesting articles and researches and they all show that the changing demographic actually affects the logistics industry ( or In the United States, for instance, the population older than 65 will grow from 12.5% in 2000 to 16.6% in 2020 (the corresponding numbers for Germany are 16.4% and 21.6%, and for Japan 17.1% and 26.2%). Thus, in many developed economies, increasing numbers of workers are even contemplating when to retire. That’s a major problem for some sectors, like road freight, where labor shortages due to retirements are already beginning to take their toll.  But there are already measures taken:

Looking at the transportation side, technical support is very important:

  • Plains: Evolving cockpit technology, more computer-based flying and new navigation and control systems –> automating some aspects of flying which makes flying easier for older pilots due to less required concentration but also more e-skills needed
  • Ship’s officers: training on stress and time management, on new laws and regulations and automation in cockpit
  • Rail and truck drivers: New technologies inside (e.g. driver assistance) and outside the vehicle (e.g. traffic management, car-to-infrastructure systems) support drivers, but also require more e-skills. It supports truck drivers especially in large city centers or in traffic jams but for longer trips, adaptions in the truck cockpit are necessary to make living more convenient for older drivers

Looking into a plant, BMW implemented some interesting changes because their average age of the plant’s workers was expected to rise from 39 to 47 by 2017 and older workers tend to call in sick for longer periods and in general must work harder to maintain their output. In addition, they are more expensive: Across the developed world, the health care costs for a person over 65 are roughly three times the costs for someone between the ages of 30 and 50. Traditional approaches like firing, early retirement or moving older workers to less physically demanding jobs are not a long-term solution, especially when there are no young people to take their places (and it doesn’t fit in the company’s philosophy anyway). Thus, BMW implemented around 70 changes together with their employees (examples below), mainly physical changes to the workplace, design and equipment changes, changes in work processes and changes regarding ergonomic and quality concerns:

  • New wooden flooring together with weight-adapted footwear, for example, reduced knee and feet strain and exposure to static electricity jolts
  • Special chairs at several workstations, which allowed them to work sitting down or to relax for short periods during breaks
  • Vertically adjustable tables meant that workstations could be adapted to each worker’s height, reducing back strain. It also facilitated job rotation during a shift because the tables could be quickly adjusted to suit incoming workers
  • Flexible magnifying lenses help workers distinguish among small parts, reducing eyestrain and mistakes
  • Large-handled gripping tools reduce strain on arms
  • Stackable transport containers ease physical strain and facilitate personnel rotation during shifts
  • Manual hoisting cranes reduce strain on back
  • Physiotherapist developed strength and stretching exercises, which he did with the workers every day for the first few weeks
  • Job rotation across workstations during a shift in order to balance the load on workers’ bodies; It was decided that workers could stay at workstation A (mild or moderate strain) for an entire shift but that they should rotate between B (most physically demanding) and C (least physically demanding) to reduce the possibility of injury.


All measures were tested in one pilot line with an average age of 47 which then achieved a 7% productivity improvement in one year, equaling the productivity of lines staffed by younger workers. And only a few months later, absenteeism had dropped to 2%, below the plant average. Thus, follow-up projects were implemented in other locations, even in the U.S.



But some of these measures can also be easily adapted to warehouses and elderly employees working there:

  • Automatically adjustable seats and easy entrance in pallet transporters
  • Cranes to lift heavy boxes or to pick material out of a vertical / horizontal shelf
  • Big screens to operate shelf access equipment
  • Magnifying lenses to distinguish better among small parts, reducing eyestrain and mistakes
  • Job rotation in some cases
  • Powered exoskeleton (wearable mobile machine that is powered by a system of motors or pneumatics, originally designed for use in defense settings, but it can be applied for simple limb movement and for mobility assistance for aged and infirm people as well – to do heavy lifting)

Post 8____

An interesting video (I recommend especially minute 3:00-4:40) explains and resumes the important facts of current changes in a nice way.

So basically, tecnical developments and automation can support elderly employees working in the transportation sector. Warehouses and plants need to be redesigned in the next years e.g. through ergonomic tools to support elderly employees best and keep company’s performance high. To make things more complex, managers in the logistics industry should also consider specific requirements for disabled people and immigrants working in the warehouses and plants and a more and more developing multi-language employee base in their warehouse or plant design.






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