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Jun 1, 2020 | News

Contractor Fabricates Solution to Common Problem Confronted During COVID-19 Crisis

It’s not just toilet paper and personal protective equipment that’s in short supply during the coronavirus pandemic.

Even basic job site sanitation supplies, such as sinks, soap and potable water, that HVAC and other construction workers take for granted can be tough to find.

That was the situation facing Colorado Sheet Metal employees while working on several projects earlier this year. And while securing masks and gloves might still be an occasional challenge for the Colorado Springs-based company, CSM employees — and other area contractors — are able to keep their hands clean, thanks to a custom-fabricated hand-washing station the company designed and built (from sheet metal, of course).

CSM President Gary Venable said when he realized that coronavirus-induced panic buying was making necessities hard to come by, he considered purchasing an alcohol-based hand sanitizer made by a local distillery as an alternative, since it didn’t require water. But Venable said he was reluctant to put the flammable liquid on job sites. And water wasn’t hard to find.

Working with shop supervisor Dennis Root and service manager Jim Thomas, they came up with the idea of making a touch-free hand-washing station that would safely meet the contractor’s sanitation requirements. Employees would be able to wash their hands as normal without worrying about spreading germs through high-contact surfaces such as faucet handles.

The sink CSM designed uses primer bulbs like those used with boat fuel to bring up clean water from a 5-gallon tank, where it flows through a spigot made from copper refrigerant piping into the sink. The used water then drains from the sink into another equal sized, but empty tank. The whole mechanism, encased in 16-guage and 22-gauge galvanized steel, is controlled by a foot pedal so employees never have to touch the sink.

For CSM’s employees, designing and then fabricating and assembling the sinks was a way to keep employees engaged during a tough time while also solving a problem that had been frustrating the company.

It turned out that Colorado Sheet Metal wasn’t the only local company having problems relating to the stringent sanitation requirements on job sites in the COVID-19 era. The sink’s clever design generated interest among other construction companies in the area, since many of them were also having trouble securing portable sinks.

“We ended up offering them to our (local) general contractors who were struggling (with getting supplies) as well,” he said. “We sold them for $500 apiece.”

So far, 22 sinks have been sold to other construction businesses in the area, although Venable, who is also the current SMACNA Colorado president, pointed out that selling them to other contractors wasn’t the original plan.

The profit on each sink, about $125, is matched with a contribution from CSM, which is split and given to the company’s 45 employees as a bonus on their paychecks, Venable added.

Nathan Cooper, the executive director of SMACNA Colorado, said the sink is a great example of the ingenuity of the association’s members.

“It was one of those rapid-response projects that really helped out the industry when we needed it to continue working,” Cooper said.

This article was initially published in May/June 2020 on the the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) website.