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Unusual measures for unusual times

April 2020

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Pictured: Chip Feininger – NS system safety coordinator, holds one of the T-shirts that seamstress Kyong Jeon, owner of Professional Alterations in Roswell, Ga., is making into face masks for NS employees. Chip is wearing a mask that Kyong made from the shirts.

In ongoing efforts, NS doing what it takes to protect employees from a pandemic

At a critical time for the country, Norfolk Southern employees are delivering for the economy and communities across America. In ongoing efforts to keep employees on the front lines safe from COVID-19, NS has purchased nearly 11,000 gallons of spray disinfectant, 30,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 550 gallons of bleach, and over 135,000 masks. That’s above and beyond the cleaning supplies in the sourcing pipeline before the pandemic – and the pursuit for more continues.

“Unique times call for unique measures,” said Jason Morris, AVP safety and environmental, whose team began searching for more face masks even before the Centers for Disease Control recommended their use.

Protecting employees, supporting a local business

Working with NS sourcing, Morris’ department ordered just over 75,000 masks – around 50,000 of them disposable and the remainder reusable cloth masks. The first order of 20,000 disposable masks arrived earlier this week and is being distributed. The remainder are expected later this week or early next week, Morris said. In addition, with help from sourcing, Morris’ team acted on the opportunity to acquire 60,000 more disposable masks for delivery this week, providing flexibility against further unexpected delays, he said.

In another small victory, Morris’ team found a local seamstress outside Atlanta who now is making facial coverings for NS using some of the department’s inventory of safety T-shirts. The shirts typically are handed out to operations employees at company events to promote safety – now they’ll be used to help keep employees safe.

The tailor, who can produce 50 to 100 masks a day, finished the first batch Tuesday. “That may not seem like a lot compared to 135,000, but each additional face covering produced helps one more employee get more use out of any face coverings they may have purchased or made at home – and we want to help,” Morris said.

To start, masks made by the seamstress will be distributed to employees whose work requires them to report to the Goode Building, including the network operations center, customers operations, and crew management. As an added benefit, NS is supporting a small local business that had been forced to shutter its doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We are her business right now,” said Chip Feininger, system safety coordinator, who brought the seamstress to Morris’ attention. “It’s worked out great for her and for Norfolk Southern. It’s a win-win story.” 

Keeping the operation moving

Across the railroad, locations continue receiving hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. On Monday and Tuesday, NS’ Charlotte Roadway Shop received two shipments of hand sanitizer that will be distributed system wide to Engineering Department personnel in shops and the field. The supplies, totaling some 4,000 gallons, were shipped via NS’ Dayton Distribution Center, using the same trucking network that delivers repair parts for rail cars and locomotives.

“We’re all about making sure our employees have everything they need – we can’t afford to not have the trains running,” said Micah Berry, the roadway shop’s supervisor equipment and material. “I think it’s been a pretty valiant effort.”

The Charlotte shop repairs and builds roadway equipment operated by NS rail, surfacing, and tie and surfacing gangs to maintain our track network. Berry works in a warehouse that distributes roadway equipment parts to maintenance-of-way gangs. Distributing hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies is a first, he said, and work life at the shop has been altered to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

To maintain social distancing, the shop no longer holds a group morning meeting, and many employees wear facial coverings. Meetings are held by phone rather than in person.

“We’ve done more conference calls in the last week than I’ve ever been on in my life,” Berry said. “We’re doing what we need to do to stay safe.”

Keeping the supplies coming

Numerous employees in NS sourcing have been working 12 to 14 hour days reaching out to vendors and securing orders for additional supplies in the fight against COVID-19. Sourcing has purchased five different brands of spray disinfectant from several suppliers for use in cleaning locomotive cabs, office desks, and crew rooms. NS’ Industrial Hygiene has reviewed all of the products to ensure they have ingredients effective against COVID-19. Since early March, NS sourcing has ordered more than 10,800 gallons of disinfectant.

“Norfolk Southern’s No. 1 asset is our people,” said Jay Medlin, group manager purchasing. “We can’t move a train without our engineers and conductors behind the controls. Our No. 1 concern is protecting our people and making sure we have hand sanitizer and disinfectant to keep work areas clean.”

As the cleaning brands that NS typically orders have become short on supply, NS vendors have kept sourcing informed about alternative brands that are available and effective against COVID-19.

“We’ve been in constant communication with our vendors, who have been a huge help in finding us options,” said Carla Groves, group manager purchasing. “It’s all difficult during this time, but the information has been flowing. We’ve had a lot of partners in this. I think it’s been a success story.” 

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Micah Berry, supervisor equipment and material at Charlotte Roadway Shop, inspects a shipment of hand sanitizer before it is distributed to Engineering Department employees in the field.