Heroes of the year - Nissan workers making life-saving PPE

Reading time: 6 min

Every day over the festive period, UniteLIVE will highlight a different ‘hero of the year’. Today we honour workers at Nissan, Unite members, who got to work making life-saving PPE at the height of the first wave of the virus. Find out more in our feature below from May.


Paul Stuart, a Unite shop steward at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, has walked past the stone blocks with the metal nubs sticking out the top that are still common throughout the North East and other parts of the UK.

The stones are the remains of iron railings that were cut down during the Second World War effort. 

Little did Paul know, as he passed them by, that he would one day play a part in a similar effort to defeat a common foe. 

Paul, 40, is one of a number of Unite members and Nissan employees who have volunteered to produce life-saving personal protection equipment (PPE) for NHS frontline workers battling the coronavirus. 

Nissan was one of the first firms to answer Unite’s call to produce PPE for use in the fight against coronavirus, with the firm now delivering up to 100,000 face visors and 70,000 aprons per week to the NHS.

Paul normally works in the paint shop at the Sunderland factory but was furloughed when the country went into lockdown. When Nissan asked staff if they wanted to volunteer making aprons he, like many others, jumped at the chance. 

“The engineers went in first and built the rigs and it was then put out to the rest of workforce,” said Paul. “Lots of people are wanting to get involved and do their bit. Management said they were overwhelmed with volunteers.

Giving back to the NHS

“The volunteers are from different parts of the plant, so we’ve all had a good laugh getting to know each other. It’s a way to give back to the NHS and all the lads that I’m working with are really proud to be making a difference.”

A team of staff volunteers at the Sunderland plant took just eight days to design and build a process onsite to manufacture the plastic aprons.

Nissan said initial capacity is 18,000 a week but the team has plans to increase this to over 70,000 within weeks.

Nissan supply chain experts are also lending a hand to get hundreds of thousands of protective face visors to frontline workers.

In April, company volunteers created a parts processing line in the final assembly area at the Sunderland plant to sort thousands of individual visor parts and pack them in sets of 125 for shipping direct to the NHS.

Up to 100,000 face visors are now being distributed every week.

In the first phase of the project, the team took delivery of hundreds of boxes of visor parts from volunteers from across the country who have been using their 3D printers to make the PPE. 

The project was inspired by four brothers, two of whom, Anthony and Chris Grilli, are engineers based at Nissan’s Technical Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire. Production was initially kicked off with the support of crowd funding and used banks of 3D printers at the Grillis’ homes. 

Nissan has provided funds for an injection moulding tool that increases the number of parts produced, which are now being sourced from companies in Lancashire, Coventry and Gateshead. Injection moulding provides a faster way to produce the plastic parts needed and has ramped up the volume.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner hailed Nissan’s efforts, as well as those of the Unite members who have volunteered at the company.

“Nissan was one of the first major companies to answer the call made by Unite and our sister unions to create a manufacturing army to end shortages of masks, aprons and other life-saving equipment,” commented Steve. 

‘Life-saving results’ 

“The company’s efforts in repurposing parts of their manufacturing capabilities have been matched by our members’ determination to produce vital PPE for frontline workers battling this terrible virus. Working together they are delivering outstanding and life-saving results.”

Hundreds of other manufacturers are also going the extra mile to the country in its time of need, said Turner, but he warned that more needs to be done. 

“PPE is still in short supply and Covid19 will remain a threat for many months to come. To those firms who are yet to get involved, if you have the capacity and capability – and can keep your workers safe, we urge you to get involved,” Turner said. 

“The government also has its part to play – these efforts need coordinating and encouraging if they are to have maximum impact. Following pressure from Unite, ministers have appointed Lord Deighton as PPE tsar

“We expect Lord Deighton and the government to act quickly and turn an eager army into a productive one, to harness the full capabilities of UK PLC to ensure no more working people risking their lives to save ours go without the equipment needed to keep them safe.” 

By Ryan Fletcher

Related Articles