City tapped as safety ‘star’

By Tom Joyce -

Talented people can be stars in the entertainment or sports worlds, sometimes rising and falling overnight — but the city of Mount Airy has been a “star” for years when it comes to safety.

The municipal government has been notified by North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry of its approval for continued participation in her department’s Public Sector Star Program.

That program recognizes state agencies and local governments for their leadership and success in providing a safe and healthy work environment. The city of Mount Airy is the only governmental agency in Surry County to achieve the Public Star Sector designation.

However, it has many years of experience in that regard, beginning in October 1996 when Mount Airy became the first municipality in the nation to attain the “Star” designation under the labor department initiative operating in North Carolina and other states.

North Carolina’s program was established to promote excellence in safety and health programs among both public and private employees in the state.

The Carolina Star Program recognizes employers and employees who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates that meet the criteria for participation

Mount Airy has retained its Public Star Sector safety designation in three-year increments since 1996, which City Manager Barbara Jones considers a testament to the ongoing efforts of the municipal labor force now including about 170 full-time personnel.

“The success of this program goes to our employees for their hard work and dedication to safety,” she commented in the wake of the most recent designation.

Jones has said that various programs have been implemented to reduce injuries or illnesses among municipal employees, which go beyond guidelines of OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). This has resulted in low rates of work days missed among employees, along with transfers and restrictions required by on-the-job injuries or illnesses.

Carolina Star Program participants are proactive and partner with the N.C. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division in an effort to prevent fatalities, injuries and illnesses through a system focused on several key areas.

Those include a management commitment and leadership, employee involvement and participation, hazard identification and evaluation, hazard prevention and control and safety and health training.

Along with providing notification of Mount Airy’s continuing Star designation, the Department of Labor advised that the city government has been removed from the department’s programmed inspection list for the duration of its participation in the Public Sector Star Program.

“It is quite obvious that your site makes safety and health practices a vital part of your…operations,” state Recognition Program Manager LaMont D. Smith wrote in the notification to Jones.

Public benefits

In addition to protecting city employees’ welfare, Mount Airy’s safety record translates into savings for taxpayers due to less money having to be spent on health-care premiums, officials have said.

At the same time, productivity stays high and citizens see no interruptions in services as a result of lost work days by municipal personnel.

Sites participating in the Star program generally experience 60 percent to 80 percent fewer lost work day injuries than would be expected of an “average” site of the same size in their industries.

Workers’ compensation costs are reduced, among other benefits.

Through the city’s participation in the program, there is an improved employee motivation to work safely, leading to better quality and productivity, officials also say.

Team effort applauded

“The city government’s safety effort is coordinated through a specially designated group, according to Jones.

“Our Carolina Star team, led by Chrisie Radford, along with all city employees, does an amazing job with our safety program,” she added.

In addition to Radford, who serves as safety coordinator, Carolina Star/Safety Team members include Carolyn Hegler, Lee Wright, Andy Utt, Dennis Jefferson, Scott Taylor, Leonard Brown, Chris Mallory, Alan Freeman, Dale Watson, Travis King, Jeff Mitchell, Fonda Mooney and Luke Danley.

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.