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NEWS | April 6, 2020

Norfolk Naval Shipyard works to safeguard employee safety and health during COVID-19 pandemic

By Norfolk Naval Shipyard Public Affairs

The priorities of minimizing the spread while maximizing the mission do not need to be in conflict with one another at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY).

“So by minimize spread, you’ll be adhering to the six feet social distancing rules, supplying gloves and masks, as well as thoroughly cleaning all surfaces?  If not, then you are not minimizing spread, you are part of the problem by continuing to spread the virus,” wrote one person on NNSY’s Facebook page April 2. 

NNSY leadership is working to demonstrate all of those protective actions are being performed in America’s Shipyard, along with many more to safeguard the health and safety of the workforce during the national emergency caused by COVID-19.  Recent initiatives on the shipyard waterfront include implementing facemasks and face shields on jobs requiring multiple people, establishing several designated cleaning times throughout the day, more effectively fanning out the workforce across all three shifts, and installing handwashing stations at the piers and dry docks. 


“These important actions show employee safety, health and well-being are our top priority while we continue to meet the mission,” said NNSY Operations Officer, Captain Jip Mosman. “Not only will multiple shifts help with social distancing, they also provide flexibility to some of our shipyard parents while their children are out of school.  Dedicated cleaning crews, along with every one of us cleaning as we go throughout the day, no matter what shift we are on or where we are located, will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside the shipyard.  We must all work as a team to keep our shipyard virus free.”

Shipyard leadership and project teams have reengineered jobs whenever possible to practice social distancing while still conducting critical work.  In the cases that is not feasible and employees are within six feet of each other for prolonged periods, face masks and face shields will be used.  COVID-19 specific Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been distributed to NNSY’s USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) and USS San Francisco (SSN 701) projects, with personnel being briefed on effective usage.    

Protecting the safety and health of shipyard project teams on the piers and dry docks is further benefitted by several new handwashing stations with foot pump faucets along the waterfront.  Per guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing is more effective than using hand sanitizer, which prompted attaining and installing these stations in close proximity to brows and project trailers. These stations will be serviced several times a week to replenish water, soap, and paper towels. John Schmeckenbecher, NNSY Port Operations Installation Program Director, said the handwashing stations are strategically located next to the projects and are similar to ones found at a carnival. “They don’t take up much space, they are standalone and don’t take any power,” he said.  “We put them where they are convenient for people to use.” 

Random Health Measures have also begun at the shipyard, with ongoing spot checks throughout the installation where qualified personnel take employee temperatures and ask questions to ensure workforce members are not currently exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms.

Naval Facilities, Public Works Department Portsmouth, is currently coordinating expanded cleaning services at NNSY to include treating high-touch objects and locations with cleaning products effective at killing COVID-19.

These are the latest in continued efforts safeguarding employee safety and health, a movement that began in March with NNSY assembling and distributing cleaning kits and producing hand sanitizer for the workforce so cleaning products would be readily available.  

“During this challenging time, shipyard leadership is doing everything in its power to ensure a safe work environment, protecting the safety and health of our coworkers, Ship’s Force, and all those within America’s Shipyard,” said Shipyard Commander Captain Kai Torkelson.  “This is just the start, and there are more steps to come. It’s not going to be a sprint, it’s going to be a marathon, and we have to keep up that endurance.”