Based in Exton, Pa., United Safety, formerly USSC Group, provides seating products for commercial buses, railcars, motorcoaches, locomotives, fire trucks, ambulances, and military vehicles. In response to the critically low supply of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company took it upon themselves to begin manufacturing the gear and distributing it to those in need.
METRO’s Managing Editor spoke to United Safety President/CEO Joseph Mirabile about how COVID-19 was impacting his company, the decision to begin manufacturing the critically needed gear, and how the community was coming together to help pack and distribute masks and other protective equipment to those people who are on the frontlines during the pandemic.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted United Safety?
The company really responded well to this crisis. We have an incredibly mission-driven team that is focused on serving our clients who range from public transportation to first responders to fire truck and EMT to our military members. From the beginning of the pandemic here in Pennsylvania, we’ve been qualified as an essential business, a life-sustaining business, and we are also on the Homeland Security list of critical infrastructure businesses. We take these designations extraordinarily seriously as a major part of our mission is to allow those different members of the government to be able to do their jobs safely and continue to support the country during this time.
As far as the workforce goes, is the majority working from home?
Everybody who can work from home is working from home effectively, which is something that we haven’t had to do at this type of scale before. We always have had a very flexible work from home policy when needed, but in this case, we’re having all workforce that can work from home, work remotely. And then obviously, we manufacture things and manufacturing is unable to be done from home. Our team has really responded dramatically, to continue to come to work every day to fulfill the mission of getting products to our customers. We’ve put in place several initiatives on hand sanitizing, we have multiple new policies in place to follow all CDC recommendations with social distancing, and we’ve done several things to continue to protect our employees and allow them to be safe while they’re supporting our customers.
Did United Safety already have a policy in place that enabled the company to work from home on a larger scale?
We were able to prepare by seeing what was going on with some of our overseas customers. We were also able to do a couple of dry runs before best practices mandated that our people had to work from home, which gave us a chance to test all our systems and technology beforehand. Through doing those dry runs of work from home days, we were able to point out some areas of the system where we had to create a more robust structure for them to be effective. And, we were able to do that prior to needing to have everybody in the office work from home.
United Safety is now producing mask and other PPE as well. Can you discuss how that came about?
Sure. We have a tremendous engineering team here, and our team, in general, is always focused on how we can save and impact lives in the different markets we serve. We were able to prototype, quite rapidly, a facial mask because we got word from many family members of people who work in the area as doctors, nurses, frontline health care workers, and EMTs that they did not have access to the PPE gear they needed. After hearing that, we looked at ways we could help, and were quickly able to ramp up one of our assembly lines to begin making face shields that are being widely utilized by the frontline. We were able to put together the prototype, repurpose some of our machinery, and repurpose some of our production lines and personnel here. People volunteered their spare time, and we were able to put together many shields and get them out to the people who needed them most. We’re looking to ramp up to about 5,000 shields a day to start, with about a week lead-time. In two weeks we plan to do 10,000 a day. We are also working on N95 alternatives. The team has really been able to respond dramatically to fill this critical shortage.
I’ve seen that some companies are using three-dimensional printers, is that how the masks are being produced?
Yes, we are also using 3-D printing, as well as Gerber cutters, freeform foam, and plastic adhesives. We’re doing several different models of the shield to get out as many as we possibly can.
And the materials…did United Safety have everything you needed on hand, or are you also working with other suppliers?
It is a combination of both. Our sourcing team really stepped up and was able to get us additional materials that we don’t usually use, and then we were able to use certain materials that we use for our products, such as cloth and foam, which are being repurposed to make the shields. We’re also looking at repurposing additional capacity into making gowns and additional PPE gear that we hear there’s also a shortage of.
How are you getting the PPE gear you’re manufacturing to the people who are most in need of it?
We’re being contacted by people who need masks and other equipment every day, and we’re donating that gear to them as quickly as we can possibly get it out. We also have other people who have been graciously putting in donations for people who need them, and then we have larger agencies and hospitals that need them who are contacting us and procuring the gear directly from us. So, it’s been a combination of all the above, and we’re providing this equipment at our cost and not for profit.
How is United Safety coming onto people’s radar, is it through existing relationships you have, or are you working with city officials to distribute the gear?
It’s been mostly through word of mouth, LinkedIn, and social media where a couple of our posts kind of went viral. Quite honestly, we’ve been getting contacted by people far and wide who have this severe shortage or have family or loved ones that need this equipment immediately.
How important is it to give back to the community at a time like this?
Our organization has always felt strongly about giving back to the community in as many ways as we possibly can. In this case, we’re uniquely positioned to be able to provide life-saving protection equipment to people that we all are looking at as our heroes right now, and that is something our people here are taking very seriously. And, we’re going to continue to do the best we can to be able to provide more equipment to the frontline medical workers who are taking care of our friends, family, and other people directly impacted by this crisis.
And how has United Safety’s employees responded to these efforts?
The team is stepping up and doing this largely in their spare time, bringing in resources, as well as other members of the community who do not work for the company but have volunteered to assemble or help any other way they can. There are a lot of ways to help during this crisis besides just through financial donations and it’s been an incredible thing to see the community response here. I think it’s something that both defines our country and our company to see people coming together to help when and how they can.
To find out more about United Safety's program, or to donate, click here.