NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- Hard hat? Check. Ear protection? Check. Eye protection? Check. Steel-toed boots? Check. All of these safety measures are in place to keep everyone safe in a shipyard environment.
Like any construction site, there are numerous hazards and rules one must be aware of – knowing where to walk, what places are off-limits and particularly, what equipment to have. Sailors need to keep their heads on a swivel, be mindful of their surroundings and remember: safety first!
“At two and a half miles, the shipyard is pretty big and it’s full of dangers,” said John Pitts, a health and safety analysis representative for Newport News Shipbuilding. “[Personal protective equipment] is for your health and safety.”
One of the most fundamental pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) that everyone should have on the shipyard is a hard hat.
“Having a helmet protects you from the obstructions you come across, like when going down ladderwells,” said Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Matthew Ayres, a Sailor assigned to the safety department aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). “When transiting a ship, there [are] ventilation tubes and cabling that’s run everywhere overhead. There are also people working above you a lot. If they drop something, your hardhat could save you.”
Falling debris is a genuine threat in the shipyard environment.
“We’ve had several incidents in the shipyard where tools or plywood has fallen from overhead and landed on a shipyard worker’s head,” said Pitts. “Thank goodness they were wearing their hardhat.”
Another critical piece of equipment to remember is hearing protection.
“Typically, on the helmet, you have hearing protection as well,” said Ayres. “In some areas of the shipyard, double hearing protection is actually required depending on the noise level. In those situations, you would use the “foamies” as well as the earmuffs. Signs are posted when double hearing protection is necessary.”
While debris and other physical hazards are occasional threats, loud noise is an ever-present condition in a refueling complex overhaul (RCOH) environment.
“There are high noise areas we have on CVN 73, such as the hangar bay and down in the drydock,” said Pitts. “If you’re welding, grinding, burning or needle gunning, of course, you’re going to need to have hearing protection. Constant loud noise can absolutely damage your hearing, and over time it can, and will, catch up with you. As a general rule, if you’re standing next to someone and you have to raise your voice in order for them to hear you, then you should probably be wearing hearing protection.”
Another essential piece of PPE is safety glasses or protective goggles.
“Eye protection is very important,” said Ayres. “We recently had someone get a metal shard in their eye. In an industrial environment like the shipyard, you should always be wearing it just in case. A foreign object can easily end up in your eye, whether it be hazmat or particles from grinding.”
Beyond being required uniform items, boots offer protection against a number of potential hazards.
“Wear your steel-toed boots,” said Ayres. “It’s necessary because there’s always stuff going on when you’re transiting the ship. You may not notice something on the ground. You may trip on something. Heavy or sharp things may fall on your feet. Working in the hangar bay or anywhere else, the steel toe is going to be your protection against a foot injury.”
Outside of standard PPE, one final piece of equipment that may be easily overlooked is a flashlight.
“It is a requirement that you have a self-powered lighting device on the ship,” said Pitts. “If you are going into a confined space, the requirement is two. If the power goes out on the ship… you need to go ahead and get out of that area [using your flashlight].”
With so much going on in the day-to-day operations of RCOH, it can be easy to forget some essential pieces of safety equipment, but it’s very important to keep them in mind and close by. In the event of an unforeseen mishap, having the correct gear could mean the difference between a close call, an injury, or worse.
For more news from USS George Washington (CVN 73), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn73/.