NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) is continuing to expand ways of protecting workforce safety and health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Enhanced screening measures and issuance of facemasks are among the new initiatives for employees who are working to minimize the spread while maximizing the mission.
Following a pilot program of Random Health Measures at various locations at NNSY, Enhanced Screening Assessments of employees began near the shipyard gates April 14. Qualified personnel took temperatures and asked questions to ensure employees are not currently exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. To ensure an additional layer of protection on the projects, personnel boarding USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) and USS San Francisco (SSN 701) are also undergoing assessments.
As a temporary solution while NNSY’s Supply Department worked to order the necessary amount of COVID-19 specific Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the shipyard’s Sail Loft produced more than 4,500 facemasks. Those have been issued to project team members as well as support staff. Two weeks ago, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention began recommending wearing face coverings in settings where social distancing measures are difficult. This helps prevent inadvertent spreading of the virus from asymptomatic persons. NNSY’s Safety and Health Department has been providing guidance on acceptable PPE to use in various work scenarios, and proper procedures for cleaning and reuse.
As part of “a significant amount of effort and moving parts underway to establish a firm PPE footing to support our workforce,” according to Supply Officer Captain Mark Garrigus, attaining disposable surgical-type masks at NNSY began with 2,000 arriving on April 9 with an expected inventory of approximately 250,000 within the next two weeks. Additionally, 60,000 non-medical cloth masks containing anti-microbial properties are ordered. Washable and reusable, there are plans for every shipyard employee to be issued multiple cloth masks to change out and launder as needed. Personnel are already being required to wear face coverings in several areas of NNSY, including the Branch Health Clinic.
While supply availability has improved in recent weeks, NNSY was initially forced to find creative solutions and rely on previously untapped in-house capabilities. This included the Supply Department assembling its own cleaning kits, with more than 350 gallons of disinfectant in 1,400 bottles distributed throughout all NNSY departments and satellite locations. And when hand sanitizer flew off store shelves faster than one could say “flatten the curve,” a cross-section of shipyard departments and the Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) detachments collaborated to make sanitizer from scratch using the World Health Organization’s recipe (WHO) of isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and glycerol. More than 165 gallons of hand sanitizer has been made and distributed, including at the turnstiles and “high touch” common areas where it is replenished daily.
Another initiative assisting the workforce has been the installation of standalone handwashing stations at 18 locations including all major docks and servicing piers. There are plans to order and place additional stations near the assortment of food trucks inside the industrial area. Technicians are at the shipyard several times per week servicing the stations to ensure they are fully supplied and operational.
NNSY has designated several cleaning times throughout the workday and has increased the frequency of disinfecting high traffic areas, workspaces and onboard ships. The shipyard has also been implementing telework to the maximum extent possible in the past month and has increased shift options for personnel, both initiatives helping with social distancing while providing flexibility to shipyard parents while children are home from school.
“I know that with all the recent news on the COVID-19 pandemic, things are changing daily if not hourly, but no matter how dark or heavy the days get during this pandemic, NAVSEA will continue to do what we do best, and we will get through this together,” said NAVSEA Commander, Vice Admiral Tom Moore.
“At a time when we rely on the support of each other, we must do our part as the mission essential workforce we are . . . our jobs directly impact the fleet’s ability to execute their mission,” said Shipyard Commander Captain Kai Torkelson. “We are thinking our way through this in a way that values and protects the workforce to the maximum extent possible while still executing our mission.”