The occasion prompted most of the 180 municipal workers to gather under a blazing late-morning sun at Blackmon Amphitheatre near City Hall to hear North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry praise their dedication to safe workplaces.
That focus has resulted in Mount Airy receiving continuous participation in the state Department of Labor’s Carolina Star program since 1996. The purpose of Berry’s visit was to present its recertification for another three years.
To maintain such recognition, employees of Mount Airy and a relatively small percentage of other public entities and businesses around the state take part in stringent efforts that involve all employees working to reduce injuries from accidents.
Both Berry and Mayor Jack Loftis, in his opening remarks, cited the fact that when Mount Airy initially received Carolina Star certification in the mid-1990s, it was the first municipality in the nation to achieve such a designation.
“I am not surprised that you were the first city in the country to receive this outstanding safety award,” Berry told city employees as she surveyed them from the amphitheater stage.
“It’s so indicative of the type of folks who live and work in this part of North Carolina,” added Berry, a Newton native who has served as labor commissioner since 2001 and previously was a member of the N.C. General Assembly.
“I wish that I could package you up in a neat little package and take you all around the state,” Berry said of the example the local employees have set.
While workplace safety is vital to the municipal personnel themselves, it also is important to the taxpayers, the labor commissioner said. When those employees have to miss work due to accident-related injuries, it means they are not on the job to provide services to citizens.
There also are monetary costs associated with accidents in governmental settings which can result in higher costs to the public, Berry said. On the other hand, preventing injuries translates into fewer tax dollars spent, the labor commissioner added.
Yet, the human part of the equation was continually reinforced by Berry and other speakers Friday.
Participation in the Carolina Star program, she said, comes down to “making sure every single worker goes home safely at the end of each work day.” It means that when a city employee kisses loved ones good-bye in the morning, there is an assurance they’ll return to kiss them hello at the end of the day.
“And that’s what this is all about,” said Berry, who was joined by other Department of Labor representatives at Friday’s event, which ended with lunch under a tent in the Municipal Building parking lot.
Carolina Star designations recognize sites that are self-sufficient in their ability to control workplace hazards. It includes inter-departmental inspections in which workers of one department inspect that of others, along with quarterly and annual safety training of employees.
Another key to the effort’s success is the participation of all personnel from top to bottom.
City Manager Don Brookshire, who also spoke at Friday’s ceremony, said Mount Airy’s continuing dedication to safety can be considered as a way of honoring a city worker who lost his life during the 1990s. That person died in an accident at the local wastewater-treatment plant.
The mishap seemed to galvanize municipal employees, who apparently have used the tragedy as motivation for making sure a similar incident doesn’t occur, Brookshire indicated.
“You are the ones who make our program a success,” the city manager told the gathering.
Brookshire also praised the city’s elected officials for their role in the safety success. “They’re the ones who support the program from the very top,” he said.
In an interview after the 30-minute ceremony, Brookshire pointed out that some accidents are inevitable due to the risk exposure inherent in certain city jobs such as police officer and firefighter.
“I think the majority of the accidents we have are the unusual things,” the city manager said of such incidents as a policeman spraining his ankle chasing a suspect or debris falling on a firefighter during a blaze.
“We’ve got these exposures and we recognize them,” he continued. “But there are exposures we can identify — we work on ways to prevent them.”
Mayor Loftis told Friday’s audience that the safety recertification is a testament to the hard work of department heads and city employees on down the line in making Mount Airy a city of distinction. “The board of commissioners and I are particularly proud of this achievement,” he said.
But the mayor said city personnel should continue to be vigilant in the future. “We must remain focused and dedicated to our safety programs.”
Contact Tom Joyce at email@example.com or at 719-1924.