Workplace safety stars held as examples at awards banquet
The injury rate for North Carolina workers was the lowest it has ever been last year. But it's still not low enough, said N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry.
Berry stopped by Sanford on Tuesday, for a lunchtime awards ceremony to honor companies and government agencies from Lee and Moore counties who had gone at least a year — or, in the case of the Lee County Library, 21 years — without an employee being injured or killed on the job.
"That's what it's all about, right?" Berry said during her visit. "Working real hard, doing a god job and going home safe to your families."
Sanford's Pfizer plant hosted the banquet. Pfizer is the only business in Lee County to be designated a Carolina Star site, the highest honor the state bestows for workplace safety and preparedness, although the Sanford Caterpillar plant is recognized as a Rising Star by the state. It was Pfizer's seventh straight year with no injuries; Caterpillar has gone three consecutive years.
Other companies in town measure their injury-free time not just in years. Coty, for example, has seen employees work 6 million hours with no lost-time accidents at the perfume and cosmetics plant. Arden Companies, which makes outdoor furniture and decorations, has gone 3 million hours. Static Control Components, which makes laser printer parts, has gone 2 million hours.
Statewide, fewer than 3 percent of workers missed a day or more of work due to a job-related injury or illness. The 2.9 percent rate represents a steady drop from 5.3 percent when Berry took over the job more than a decade ago, but she said she would like to see it at 0 percent.
Jennifer St. Clair, of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, praised Berry's record and said she's more than just the lady whose face graces all the elevators in the state.
"Her labor department is perhaps best known for its focus on safety," St. Clair said.
Berry herself used to own a small business manufacturing car parts with her husband, Norman. She said when they weren't working together, she loved to hear him walk in the door each night and say, "Honey, I'm home."
Berry's husband died in 2006 at age 75, and Berry said it still hurts that she doesn't get to hear those words. But that also drives her to push supervisors and employees around the state to be more careful and safety-conscious, she said. The 23 people who died on the job last year were all men and on average were 44 years old — an age she said is far too young to be taken from their loved ones.
One of the 23 workplace fatalities last year happened in Sanford; Martin Davis was crushed to death when a large bale of copper wire fell on him. An investigation found that the bale of wiring that killed Davis, 50, had not been properly secured.
"Behind those numbers are individuals, and it's very important to recognize those are individuals," Berry said. "Because behind them are families."
The companies that were honored for their safety track records Tuesday were:
City of Sanford, Community Development
City of Sanford, Police
Pittsboro Christian Village
Static Control Components
Lee County, Youth Services
Kinder Morgan, Sanford Terminal
Lee County, Sheriff's Department
Lee County, Transit System
Martin Marietta Materials, Lemon Springs Quarry
Town of Southern Pines, Building and Grounds
Air Systems Components (Trion IAQ)
Caterpillar, Sanford Facility
Central Carolina Community College
General Shale Brick, U.S.-72 Sanford
Lee Brick and Tile, Plant #3
Pentair Aquatic Systems, Hawkins Avenue Location
City of Sanford, Big Buffalo Waste Water Treatment Plant
Lee County, Animal Control
Lee County, Cooperative Extension
Lee County, Parks and Recreation
N.C. Department of Commerce, Division of Workforce Solutions, Sanford
S.T. Wooten Corporation, Asphalt — Pittsboro Plant
S.T. Wooten Corporation, Asphalt — Sanford Plant
GKN Driveline North America, Sanford Precisions Forming Facility
Arden Companies, Outdoor Replacement Cushions
Lee County, Elections
Lee County, Soil and Water
City of Sanford, Fire Department
Lee Brick and Tile, Fleet
Lee Brick and Tile, Plant #4
Lee County, Solid Waste Services
Town of Southern Pines, Administration
Town of Southern Pines, Finance
Town of Southern Pines, Library and IT Services
Town of Southern Pines, Planning and Zoning
Town of Southern Pines, Recreation
Lee County, Administration
Lee County, Human Resources
Lee County, Information Technology
Lee County, Office of Emergency Services
Lee County, Register of Deeds
Lee County, Strategic Services
City of Sanford, Administration
City of Sanford, Engineering
Lee County, Social Services
N.C. Department of Commerce, Division of Workplace Solutions, Aberdeen
Lee County, Finance Office
Lee County, Tax Office
Lee County, Enrichment Center
Lee County Industries
City of Sanford, Financial Services
City of Sanford, Water Treatment Plant
City of Sanford, Beautification and Golf
Lee County, Library System