Murphy Company, Sheet Metal Workers 36 members apply skills, innovation to help community, frontline workers during pandemic



SHEET METAL WORKERS LOCAL 36 members placed temporary ductwork through windows in regular patient rooms and connected it to HEPA filtration systems on the roof at SSM Health – St. Joseph Hospital in St. Charles to create additional isolation rooms for the hospital. – Murphy Company photos

With the surge of St. Louisans being hospitalized with coronavirus, health care providers needed a way to efficiently create additional isolation rooms for those patients. That’s when Murphy Company and its team of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 members jumped into action.

The challenge was to ensure that fresh, clean air was being circulated in and out of those rooms for patients with COVID-19, while keeping patients and hospital staff in other areas of the hospital safe from the airborne virus.

The answer was the creation of temporary ductwork through windows in those rooms, which was connected to HEPA filtration systems on the roof. One recent effort took place at SSM Health – St. Joseph Hospital in St. Charles.

“Our creative team figured out a way to install temporary ductwork along the building there to convert several rooms to isolation rooms,” said Murphy Project Manager Jim Wesling. “This fast-paced project took place in only 17 hours with an average crew of six sheet metal workers working around the clock to ensure our hospitals can run optimally and safely.”

Murphy Company is working on similar projects at other hospitals in the St. Louis area, including efforts at Mercy Hospital South and DePaul Hospital.

Matt Simpson, a 20-year Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 member who works at Murphy, has been involved with the conversion process at the hospitals and said despite everyone on edge with the pandemic, he feels safe working with all of the extra precautionary measures.

“The hospitals take temperatures and ask questions relating to COVID-19 symptoms before you enter,” he said. “We’re washing and sanitizing our hands and taking social distancing measures, and if there is the slightest bit of risk, we gown up and wear gloves and masks.”

Ray Reasons, Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 president and business manager, said with COVID-19, the union is navigating an unchartered territory that changes daily. He said the local updates its members on a continuous basis when it receives new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and its international union.

“Member safety is our No. 1 priority right now,” Reasons said. “With that said, I am extremely proud of and amazed with our members’ work to adapt to the changing needs of the healthcare community in record time and their and our contractors’ efforts on other fronts to help support each other and the public at this time.” (See related SMART 36 story here.)

Additional COVID-19 efforts underway at Murphy fabrication shops across the country include the development of portable handwashing stations to be used at Murphy jobsites.

PORTABLE HANDWASHING STATIONS created by Murphy employees in St. Louis for use on jobsites include a rectangular station (left), has metal housings and hot water heaters installed in the cabinets, and a round station (right), which is less expensive and offers a hands-free faucet and soap dispenser. – Murphy Company photos

“We challenged our fabrication shops to turn a prototype around in two days,” said Murphy Senior Vice President Robert Mathisen. “Given the shortages in the supply chain, there are limitations on readily available components.”

Two prototypes were created at the company’s Denver shop by sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipefitters. Since then, the prototypes have been redesigned to be more cost-effective and are also being produced in St. Louis shops.

The rectangular station is more expensive and has metal housings with hot water heaters installed in the cabinets. The round station is less expensive and offers a hands-free faucet and soap dispenser.

Both handwashing stations are available to other contractors and trades for purchase. Anyone interested in buying a station in the St. Louis area can contact Gary DeFosset at 314-692-1695 or Joe Skiljan 314-692-1557.

Murphy employs more than 300 salaried workers and 900 union craft workers in the plumber, pipefitter, boilermaker, sheet metal and laborer trades from its headquarters in St. Louis and regional offices in Denver and Colorado Springs.

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