Master Shipbuilder Kenneth Rountree has made safety a priority during his 43-year career at Newport News Shipbuilding. Photo by Lexi Whitehead

Making Safety a Priority

Published March 8, 2023

Master Shipbuilder Kenneth Rountree (X33) started his career at Newport News Shipbuilding immediately following his high school graduation in 1980.

“I graduated Friday night, and I started at the shipyard that Monday,” he said.

Starting from his very first boss at NNS to his current leadership, Rountree said safety – along with first-time quality – has always been a priority. He credits this focus with keeping him accident free for the past 43 years.

“It’s been good, and I don’t take it lightly,” Rountree said of his years in the shipyard. “When I do anything, I try to do it right the first time. I watch my area and make sure it’s safe before I start working.”

Rountree, who works in the Foam Fill Facility for the Virginia-Class Submarine Program, said he has seen plenty of injuries suffered by fellow shipbuilders. That’s why he encourages the younger employees he mentors to remain vigilant.

“You want to be able to come back the next day. If you’ve got a family, you want to go home and see them. They want you to be safe,” Rountree said. “You don’t want to see anyone get hurt so you’ve got to be very careful.”

The emphasis on safety extends to the submarines Rountree helps build. He knows the sailors who will serve on these boats – and their families – are depending on the craftsmanship of shipbuilders. “You’ve got to take pride in your job,” he said.

Foreman David Gaines, who leads Rountree’s team, said his crew does a lot of lifting, so it’s important to work safely to prevent injuries. Leaders like Rountree play an important role. “Mr. Rountree is a prime example of what an employee should be,” Gaines said.

Rountree, who lives in North Carolina and has a 55-mile commute one way, said safety is also important when traveling to and from work. “Even driving a van back and forth, I’ve been blessed to not be involved in any accidents,” he said. “I’ve just been blessed through the years.”