In early 2020, Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), along with the rest of the country, found itself facing an unprecedented and unpredictable opponent: COVID-19. The shipyard began its efforts to combat the virus in March, quickly looking for new and innovative ideas to help aid in the fight and keep its workforce safe. One idea that arose was to install personnel guards in spaces where physical distancing wasn’t always possible.
Since April, NNSY’s Nuclear Sheetmetal Shop (Shop 17) has installed over 6,000 square feet of protective personnel guards at NNSY, its satellite locations at Naval Station Norfolk, and Nuclear Power Training Unit--Charleston. The idea first came about when the shop received a call from the radiation training team asking if there were any safety protections that would allow classroom training to resume. According to NNSY’s Structural Group (Code 920) Nuclear Director Brandon Williams, the team began brainstorming ideas that would utilize materials the shop already had on hand.
Williams said, “We built several prototypes to ensure sightlines were maintained for the user while maximizing their protection from others.” While working on their initial prototypes, the team quickly determined that there was not a one-size-fits-all solution for the barriers. “Rather than produce standard-sized personnel guards, we decided that the most effective approach would be to take orders, go directly to the site requesting a personnel guard to take measurements, and customize the item for the space where it would be installed.”
Five months later, Shop 17 has the process down to a science. Employees who are in need of a personnel guard send an email to the shop with the employee’s contact information and location. Within 24 business hours, a team member contacts the requesting employee via telephone and schedules an appointment to get the space’s measurements. Once the measurements are secured, the shop begins the fabrication process of creating the custom personnel guards. This process takes approximately five working days, after which the lead team member will contact the requesting employee to schedule a delivery and installation time. The installation of the personnel guards takes about an hour, according to Williams, but the timing can vary depending on the nature of the job. The receiving employee should be present when the team installs the personnel guards to ensure that they will properly serve the individual’s needs.
While all of Shop 17 works to fabricate and install the personnel guards, the primary team behind the effort include Nuclear Inside Shop (Shop 17) Supervisor James Wilkins and Sheetmetal Mechanics Matthew Legg, Brian Nipper, Monica Cooper, Tom Deller, and Steven Myers.
The work being completed by the Shop 17 team is in direct support of guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). “These guidelines indicate the importance of keeping the workforce healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Williams. “One of the engineering controls recommended by the CDC is the installation of physical barriers where feasible. These personnel guards serve as physical barriers in an attempt to keep the workforce healthy and able to service the Fleet.”
The personnel guards are especially important in spaces where physical distancing can be difficult, such as locations on the NNSY waterfront. The project is one of many innovative measures NNSY has utilized to keep its workforce protected and safe - a task directly tied to the shipyard’s mission, according to Williams. “By improving our mitigation measures against COVID-19, our workforce can remain healthier which results in increased man-hours, production, and ultimately the readiness of the Fleet,” he said.
Williams said he has an immense gratitude for his team members and the continued dedication, hard work, and commitment they’ve shown in the battle against COVID-19. He said that the work being done by Shop 17 Nuclear is “true to the C.O.R.E. values of NNSY helping to keep coworkers safe.” He added that any member of the NNSY workforce can reach out to the shop if they feel they would benefit from having personnel guards in their workspace. “No job is too big or too small, our team values your safety, your security, and your health,” Williams said.