The annual Safety Awards Banquet was held Tuesday night, bringing together local businesses and the state’s Department of Labor all for the purpose of recognizing those who have worked hard to keep their workplaces safe.
Presented by the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce and the North Carolina Department of Labor and held at the Sampson Agri-Exposition Center, the banquet featured a catered dinner followed by a keynote address from Commissioner of Labor Cherie K. Berry.
Berry, who hails from Catawba County and now resides in Newton, is the state’s first female labor commissioner. She was sworn into office in 2001, after serving eight years as a state representative. Just this past November, Berry was re-elected to a fourth four-year term as commissioner.
After putting everyone at ease with a few jokes and laughs, Berry shared how happy she was to be there and that she had numerous safety awards to present to Sampson County businesses this year.
“We would rather be proactive now,” said Berry as she talked about safety training and various other measures the Department of Labor has taken to provide companies with the information and skills they need to keep employees safe on the job.
“We don’t want to come in later and slap you with a fine. We would much rather see companies take those hard-earned dollars and put it back into their company and the health of their employees,” attested Berry, mentioning that as the former business owner of LGM Ltd., a company that produces spark plug wires for the automotive industry, she knew just how hard-earned those dollars could be.
“We want to be your partner and help you every step of the way,” promised Berry.
She reminded those companies present at the banquet that “your employees are your greatest asset.” She then asked who in the room had children or grandchildren. As she watched hands go up, she started talking about her own grandson, saying that she often wondered about the future that the present generation is building for the coming ones.
“That’s why it is so important that we look after one another,” stressed Berry, “because your employees all have families, people waiting at home who love them.”
“Last year, there were 38 fatalities,” Berry reported, adding that those who were killed were someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s loved one, someone’s friend.
She also pointed out that those who had lost their lives were not all of the same profession. “Some were carpenters, others were in manufacturing and agriculture…It wasn’t just one area that was targeted.”
“Eighty percent of fatalities are caused by the big four — falls, stuck by, caught in between, and electrocution,” shared Berry.
Although she noted that “fatalities are lower than ever before,” Berry stressed that there is still work to be done to make workplaces safer. “We still need that zero.”
Berry urged workers to heed their employer’s advice. “If people at work tell you not to do something, then don’t do it. There’s probably a really good reason why they’re telling you not to do something.”
“Most regulations that you have to abide by were written in blood and pain,” she added.
Berry commended the companies at the banquet for making safety a priority in their workplace.
“I know I’m preaching to the choir tonight because you all are here because you’re receiving awards for safety,” said Berry who hands out thousand upon thousands of safety awards every year. “That says something about who you are and the state we are that we recognize you with these awards.”
Safety Awards Coordinator Eursula Joyner then joined Berry to make the award presentations.
According to the Department of Labor, the Safety Awards Program has been in place since 1946 and hands out around 2,500 awards annually. The program is “designed to stimulate interest in accident prevention and to promote safety in the workplace by providing an incentive to employers and employees to maintain a safe and healthful workplace.” That incentive is the recognition of “private firms and public agencies throughout the state that achieve and maintain outstanding safety records.”
Local businesses that received the distinguished recognition this year included Prestage Farms, Murphy Brown, Murphy Family Ventures, S&W Ready Mix Concrete, Schindler Elevator Corporation, Bluescope Steel, Guilford, Precision Tool & Stamping, House of Raeford Farms, Riverside Sand Company, and the Clinton and Kenansville offices of the NC Department of Commerce.
In order to be considered for the safety awards, these businesses had “have had no fatalities at the site during the calendar year for which the award is given” and they “must have maintained either a perfect safety record for that year or an incidence rate of at least 50 percent below the average for its particular industry group.”
There is also one extra-special award — the Million-Hour Safety Award - which is presented annually to businesses that have a million employee hours with no injury or illness involving days away from work. This year, Murphy Family Ventures received this impressive honor.
In total, around 400 safety awards were earned by Sampson County businesses in the past year.
To learn more about the Department of Labor’s Safety Awards Program, please call 919-807-2908 or visit www.nclabor.com. Applications for the awards can be found, completed, and submitted online.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.