Berry salutes local businesses

Published 12:12 pm Sunday, May 31, 2009

AHOSKIE—Safety and health is key to the success of any business.

On Thursday evening, Commissioner of Labor Cherie K. Berry brought that message home to local businesses at the North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) Safety Awards Banquet.

The banquet honored those businesses that are part of the NCDOL safety awards program, which recognizes private and public firms throughout the state that achieve and maintain good safety records annually. To qualify a firm must have had no fatalities during the year at the site or location for which the award was given and have maintained an incidence rate of at least 50 percent below the average for its particular industry group.

Two award levels are distributed in the program. The gold award is based on the DART rate, which includes cases of days away from work, restricted activity or job transfer. The silver award is based only on cases with days away from work. They are recorded when the worker misses at least one full day of work, not including the day of the injury.

Approximately 40 businesses in the northeast region were presented with awards by Berry during the dinner held at the Ahoskie Inn.

Before the commissioner took the stage, Ray Felton, the owner of Metal Tech in Murfreesboro (which received NCDOL’s Carolina STAR recognition earlier that day), spoke about Berry’s work.

While doing research on Berry’s biography, Felton discovered her love of cats, especially those that are hungry. Felton said if there is a hungry cat around Berry was going to take it in.

“What does that tell us,” Felton asked the crowd. “To me it says she’s compassionate and I think that’s important.”

Felton said while working with NCDOL employees during Metal Tech’s Carolina STAR process, he found they work with a very caring and compassionate person.

“Cherie Berry is making a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “She’s encouraging her staff to go out and work with us and not lead us over the edge of safety, but encouraging us to be safe, show us how to be safe.”

Felton said he was not going to read all of the awards Berry has received.

“I don’t think they’re nearly important as what she does for all of us every day and that’s lead a group of people to draw people to safety,” he said.

Berry called it a blessing to have people all over the state who care about each other and their employees and that North Carolina can have outstanding safety records.

“It’s so important right now with our economy, the way it is, that we have safe and healthy work places because injury and illnesses have a very detrimental negative effect on the bottom line,” she said. “So we have to do everything we can now to help our companies to be profitable, so they can stay open, stay with people employed and stay in North Carolina.”

Berry said she doesn’t pay attention to all the “chatter and talk” about the economy on television and talk radio, rather opting for HGTV because it was better for her psyche “to watch paint dry than to listen to all that mumbo jumbo.”

She noted her past experience in working with her own company that made sparkplug wires. Berry said she has seen business cycles come and go.

“This one is a little bit deeper than others have been, but it’s still a business cycle and it will cycle out and up again,” she said. “The most important thing we all can do is stay healthy, stay safe and do anything we can to make our companies profitable, to be able to keep those doors open so that when the inventories are all used up, when projects need to be built and services have to be provided—then we’re ready, we’re ready for that.”

Berry said stress is evident in the workplace right now with people losing their jobs and even their homes.

“We just have think about our own area of responsibility and take care of that and let some of this other stuff sort itself out,” she said. “Because if we bring that stress to the workplace then accidents are going to happen. …We have to focus on the task at hand.”

Berry said it was important for people to take care of those who work beside them and “pull them back from the edge if they start to make a mistake” as well as keep them focused.

“You can’t afford to have an accident or an illness right now,” she said. “You simply can’t afford it.”

Berry said she knew those that gathered at the awards program are committed to safety and health as they embrace it and practice it every minute of every day in their workplaces.

“And then when you leave you take that same attitude home with you to keep yourself and your families safe,” she said. “You’re shining examples of people who are doing the right thing.”

Berry continued that what businesses do in the northeast region has ramifications around the state.

“Let me give you an example of that; in 2007 (the most current data available), you actually lowered our injury and illness rate,” she said. “And that was remarkable because it was already the lowest it had ever been in the history of the state and it had been at that low level for several years.”

Berry said that rate went from 4.0 for 100 full time employees to 3.8. She added the decrease may not seem like a big deal, but North Carolina was one of only 12 states in the country to lower their injury and illness rate in 2007.

The effect of that rate decreasing, according to Berry, is the rates for workers’ compensation insurance being lowered 4.4 percent on average for businesses across the state as of April 1. The decrease saved companies more than $65 million.

“So it is a big, big advantage to have a safe and healthy workplace; it is so good for the bottom line, it is such a good way for a company to stay profitable,” she said. “And profit is such a sweet, good word to hear and to have.”

Among the award recipients were several Roanoke-Chowan based companies as listed below:

Silver awards

First Year

Schueck Steel

Gold awards

First Year

Central Ford Inc.

Metal Technologies of Murfreesboro Inc.

Second Consecutive Year

Berry Plastics, Ahoskie Plant

Roanoke Chowan Ready Mix Inc.

Third Consecutive Year

Motion Sensors Inc.

Roanoke Chowan Hospital

Metal Technologies of Murfreesboro/Cofield

Fourth Consecutive Year

Rascoe Automotive

Fifth Consecutive Year

The Alpha Group Inc.

Sixth Consecutive Year

Air Liquide

Hydraulic Hose Depot Inc.

Systems Contracting Corp.

Seventh Consecutive Year

Nucor Steel, Hertford County

Eighteenth Consecutive Year

Crossroads Fuel Service, Coast Oil Division

Other honorees for Gold awards included:

First Year

Albemarle Hospital Authority

Town of Nags Head, Septic Health Initiative

Town of Nags Head, Sanitation Division

Town of Nags Head, Ocean Rescue Division

Town of Nags Head, Fire and Rescue Division

Town of Nags Head, Animal Control

Town of Nags Head, Water Administration

Second Consecutive Year

Mackeys Ferry Sawmill

Town of Nags Head, Dept of Administrative Services

Town of Nags Head, Public Works Administration

Town of Nags Head, Police Division

Town of Nags Head, Water Operations Division

Town of Nags Head, Dept of Planning And Development

Town of Nags Head, Maintenance Garage Division

Town of Nags Head, Office of The Town Manager

Fourth Consecutive Year

Kinder Morgan Bulk Terminals Inc., Hertford

Fifth Consecutive Year

Piedmont Natural Gas, Elizabeth City

Seventh Consecutive Year

Employment Security Commission, Outer Banks Branch Office

Employment Security Commission, Elizabeth City Local Office

Employment Security Commission, Edenton Local Office

Tenth Consecutive Year

J.W. Jones Lumber Co.