Workplace safety applauded at annual awards banquet

Jun. 19, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

Emphasizing the importance of workplace safety, N.C. Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry congratulated a crowd of local business and government leaders gathered Tuesday at a safety awards banquet for being the largest group she has seen at the local event.

But Berry, known by many as the woman whose photo appears in elevators across the state, also chided the local officials after no one in the crowd of about 100 said their office had used the state's free safety consulting services.

"Well, where y'all been?" she said. "Pick up the phone."

Her department's Consultative Services Bureau offers visits from officials who will inspect a site for existing and potential safety hazards and won't fine the business or release the results of their findings. More information on the program is available at www.nclabor.com/osha/consult/consult.htm or by phone at 800-NCLABOR.

The rest of the banquet — sponsored by the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce and held at the Sanford plant of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer — was all about honoring companies and government departments in Lee and nearby counties for their achievements in safety. Berry's department gives silver awards, which account only for how many days of work are missed due to injuries, and gold awards take that figure into account along with other factors. An on-the-job fatality automatically disqualifies employers, even if there are no other accidents.

While some of the award winners have relatively safe work environments — such as the Lee County Library System, the only local employer to have won a gold award all 20 years the award has existed — other award-winners were in fields like manufacturing or law enforcement.

Both the Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Southern Pines Police Department won a gold award for the first year, and among other law enforcement and first responders, the Moore County Public Safety and Detention Center won a gold award for the second consecutive year. The Sanford Fire Department won a gold award for the sixth consecutive year, and Lee County Emergency Services won a gold award for the eighth consecutive year.

Many local manufacturers also won safety awards, with COTY and Static Control Components earning silver awards for the second consecutive year, and Pfizer, Trion, Caterpillar, Pentair and others taking home gold awards. Several manufacturers also won special awards for logging at least 1 million man hours with no accidents leading to lost time.

Static Control achieved the million-hour award. Arden Companies, Caterpillar and Pfizer all reached two million hours, and COTY hit the three-million-hour mark.

Lynn Bottone, site leader of the local Pfizer plant, said safety has been paramount to her company, so it's fitting that they hosted the banquet this year. She said the company encourages workers to actively think about safety by bringing in photos of people who are important to them and wouldn't want them being hurt or killed on the job.

Bob Joyce, president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, said workplace safety in North Carolina is at an all-time high thanks to the efforts of Berry and other officials. However, 35 North Carolina workers died on the job last year. Berry called on those present to ensure their employees worked in safe conditions, and she said that as long as both employers and employees follow the rules, workplace injuries and deaths will decline.

"They were written in blood and pain, and yes, even death," she said of the state's safety regulations. "So it's important to listen to them."