It was a big day Wednesday at the Temple-Inland plant in Thomson as corporate executives, Georgia Department of Labor officials and congressional representatives joined local government officials and plant employees with their spouses for a celebration and ceremony.
"I'll tell you one thing, it's one heck of a birthday party," quipped plant Manager Larry Thompson.
But Mr. Thompson's birthday was only a coincidence. The event was to present the Voluntary Protection Program Star Presentation by the United States Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration to the Thomson particleboard facility.
A mid-day banquet under a tent in the front yard of the facility featured a menu fit for the occasion - plate-sized beef steaks, baked potatoes and salad catered by Neal's Barbecue.
"This dinner gives a whole new meaning to the rubber chicken circuit we usually run through across the state," said Dennis Pitts, a representative from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's office.
According to OSHA's website, the Thomson plant is one of the less than 100 manufacturing plants in Georgia to be inducted into the VPP Star program. The programs promote effective worksite-based safety and health management to assure every working person is safe. The Star status - the highest level of the VPP programs - is given to exemplary worksites with comprehensive and successful safety systems. Star companies have achieved injury and illness rates at or below the national average and are self-sufficient in their ability to control workplace hazards.
In July, the Thomson plant celebrated its ninth year of no loss time due to accidents on the job.
"I am overwhelmed with all the teamwork that got us where we are today," said Mark Shelton, the plant's safety committee chairman. "There's a simple philosophy here that no one should suffer an injury at this facility and y'all work hard to see that it doesn't happen."
Jim McCain, the vice president of panel products for Temple-Inland, said he felt the company could not be a world-class organization without a world-class safety program, so he set a goal that each plant be VPP certified.
"It was a good thing to have Thomson as the first one," he said during his speech. "You've set a very high bar for the rest of the facilities to follow... Thomson is a special place. It's one of our best facilities."
To achieve the VPP Star status, the Thomson plant underwent a multi-stepped, on-site review for several days last March by OSHA. Bill Harrington, the Atlanta east area VPP officer for OSHA, said he brought a team of experts who reviewed records, logs and inspection histories, held meetings and interviews with management staff and employees and inspected the facility.
"My report is 36 pages long," Mr. Harrington said. "We found out this is a family here. ... Y'all did everything right. ... The best part of this whole thing is you guys earned this."
Employee Charles Cummings said he's glad for the award and the atmosphere in the worksite, which is more strict than when he first started working there 15 years ago.
"They've been talking about safety ever since I've been here," the strap operator said. "But now we live it and breathe it."
Fewer injuries and illnesses benefit companies and employees because workers' compensation premiums and other costs plummet, according to OSHA material. But safety committee member Ray Cummings said the effect of an injury goes much deeper.
"I want to thank the families here for sending us your spouses to work here every day," he said at the conclusion of the banquet. "How you send them here to us is how we want to send them back home to you."