Cherie Berry’s face is well known to North Carolinians due to being pictured on the walls of 28,000 elevators, but the state’s labor commissioner made a live appearance here Friday.
Berry was in the Granite City for a re-certification program celebrating the city government’s ongoing excellence as a participant in the Public Sector Star Program of the N.C. Department of Labor. That program recognizes state agencies and local governments for their leadership and success in providing safe and healthy work environments.
This participation has involved the city of Mount Airy implementing various programs to reduce injuries or illnesses among municipal employees which exceed guidelines of OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration). The results have included low rates of work days missed among employees, along with transfers and restrictions required by on-the-job injuries or illnesses.
And that is not a new accomplishment for the city government, which has maintained its coveted designation as a Carolina Star Public Sector site for 21 straight years.
Such a distinction did not go unnoticed Friday by Berry, who spoke during an award luncheon at Cross Creek Country Club attended by about 160 municipal employees along with city, county and state officials including Sen. Shirley Randleman.
“You are special, special people,” Berry told the roomful of honorees.
“I’ve watched you through the years,” added the visiting state official, a Republican who was elected as North Carolina’s first female labor commissioner in 2000 and now is serving a record fifth four-year term.
“Yea, team!” Berry shouted to the group at one point, highlighting the fact that building a stellar safety and health record in the workplace requires the combined efforts of all employees.
“Every person earned this award,” said the state labor commissioner, who held up a blue star at one point to signify the honor. “Thank you for being who you are.”
The maintaining of low injury and illness rates which has set Mount Airy apart from other local government units has helped the state as a whole achieve an overall downward trend for those incidents in recent years.
“Zero is what we’re aiming for,” Berry said.
The commissioner cautioned city personnel against resting on their laurels, pointing out that the recognition bestowed Friday was for past accomplishments.
But what’s important “is what happens in the next minute,” Berry said. “Things that cause injury and death often happen in a split second.”
Berry also could not leave the podium without referring to her legendary status as “the face in the elevator,” which appears in connection with the Department of Labor’s role in inspecting those conveyances around the state.
“I know you’ve seen that little picture,” the commissioner said of her image in general and its eyes in particular. “They’re following you around in the elevator.”
Berry, 71, said this offers an important lesson for riders:
“Don’t do anything in an elevator in North Carolina that you don’t want your mama to see.”
City leaders comment
Mount Airy officials also offered remarks during Friday afternoon’s program.
Mayor David Rowe referred to the fact that the Star safety campaign involves both the private and public sectors. He said the noteworthy safety and health record maintained among the various city departments is the envy of people such as him, a longtime highway contractor.
“I know how hard it is to do that,” admitted Rowe. He described the fact that Mount Airy has kept its Star certification for 21 years as “a miracle” and “a testament to the good people we have working for the city.”
The safety effort has been led by a Carolina Star Committee of about a dozen members representing the various municipal departments.
City Manager Barbara Jones reminded everyone that Mount Airy was the first municipality in the nation to achieve Public Sector Star status in 1996. It has been re-certified in three-year increments since.
“However, being a Carolina Star site not only comes with pride and honor, but with continued responsibility,” Jones said. “We want to continue working together to provide the safest workplace possible for all our employees.”
Jones said this will require remaining focused and dedicated to the city’s safety programs.
“My goal as manager is to send every employee home safe at the end of each day.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.