Berry praises Berry

Published 1:48 pm Saturday, October 3, 2009

AHOSKIE – Gazing out over a sea of yellow t-shirts, David Hepburn’s eyes became a bit misty here Wednesday afternoon.

The brightly colored t-shirts worn by the employees of Berry Plastics of Ahoskie represented the company’s acceptance into the Carolina STAR program, the highest honor bestowed by the North Carolina Department of Labor in regards to the operation of a safe and healthy workplace.

As plant manager of the 165 employees based at the Berry operation located on Johnny Mitchell Road just south of Ahoskie, Hepburn thanked his workers for a job well done.

“You were the ones who got this done,” said Hepburn in his thick Scottish accent. “The STAR team assembled here was one without a lot of members of our management team. The team, the employees, told us what we needed to do in regards to making this a safer plant.”

The STAR program is one where management agrees to operate an effective program that meets an established set of safety criteria. The employees agree to participate in the program and work with management to ensure a safe and healthful workplace.

With that combined effort, a STAR recipient shows their employees and the community in which they operate that the company is a leader in safety and health.

However, becoming a STAR site doesn’t happen overnight. In Berry’s case, it was a three-year process.

“We worked hard for three years,” said Julia Sessoms, a Berry Plastics employee who served as the STAR team leader. “Each and everyone in this plant did something to help. We all went the extra mile to keep each other safe.

Sessoms recognized the rest of the STAR team at the plant, as well as Berry’s Safety team and First Responders team.

She also thanked Nucor of Hertford County, a Carolina STAR site, for their help and guidance.

For their efforts, Berry Plastics received a framed certificate as well as the prestigious Carolina STAR flag that will be flown at the plant’s main entrance.

“This flag is nice, but it’s not about a flag…it’s about protecting the safety and guarding the health of every one of the employees gathered here today,” Hepburn noted. “We’ll fly this flag and set out in an effort to become even better and better. And by becoming better, we become more productive, which in turn adds to our profitability.”

Perhaps it was only fitting that the presentations made by the state to the Ahoskie plant came from a person whose name bears an exact resemblance to the company – North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry.

“This is my family,” said the Commissioner, flashing a huge smile. “I’m proud of each and every one of you…you represent exactly what we are trying to do across the state and that is to develop this type of attitude and commitment to safety and health in the workplace.”

Commissioner Berry noted that co-workers are in each other’s presence on a daily basis, more so than an employee is at home with his or her family.

“You share a lot with each other…you know what your co-workers are going through in their lives,” she said.

Berry touched on the stress that individuals face each and every day, especially in today’s tough economy. She said that stress often leads to making careless mistakes.

“Be aware of what’s going on around you,” she said. “You need to be safe, but you also need to be your brother’s keeper.”

She also pointed out the financial gain connected with operating a safe work environment. Berry said that North Carolina companies spend $150 billion annually on worker’s compensation insurance.

“In April, the North Carolina Rate Bureau, who sets those insurance rates, dropped them by 4.4 percent due to a lower number of workplace injuries…that saved companies across our state a combined $65 million,” she said. “Now there’s another 9.6 percent decrease on the table, again due to workplace injuries declining further. If approved, that will save another $119 million on worker’s comp insurance. You are helping to lower these rates by being safe. You are indeed a shining star.”

Also making comments at Wednesday’s ceremony was Ben Scheu, President of the RCT Division of Berry Plastics.

“What an unbelievable job by you all,” said Scheu, addressing the yellow-clad employees. “The commitment to health and safety you made to each other is fantastic. It’s not that you had to do this, rather you wanted to do this for the benefit of those you work with. All the accolades go to you for the commitment you made.”

With its recognition on Wednesday, Berry Plastics of Ahoskie becomes the fourth Hertford County based company to fly a Carolina STAR flag. They join Nucor of Hertford County, Metal Tech of Murfreesboro and the Metal Tech job site at the Nucor plant.

Additionally, the Ahoskie plant becomes the first of 65 Berry Plastics operations nationwide to be so recognized for its safety and health program.

Originally established in 1967 as Imperial Plastics and located in Evansville, Indiana, Berry Plastics has grown into a leading manufacturer of injection-molded plastic packaging, thermoformed products, flexible films and tapes and coatings. The company’s sales are focused in four divisions: Rigid Open Top, Rigid Closed Top, Flexible Films and Tapes and Coatings.