Sysco center recognized for safety

Brett Michael, of Bluemont, a forklift operator for Sysco Northeast Redistribution Center in Front Royal, sits in the cafeteria of the Sysco subsidiary in Front Royal with coworkers on Thursday. Michael and his colleagues were awarded Virginia's highest labor safety award by Ray Davenport, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Executives, managers and rank and file employees at the Sysco Northeast Redistribution Center beamed proudly Thursday at a ceremony recognizing them for excellence in workplace health and safety protections.

Part of the center’s 300-member workforce filled the main break room as state and local officials praised them for winning approval as a star workplace, a designation the state and federal governments award to companies that have met the highest standards under the federal Voluntary Protection Program.

A written statement from the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry said the redistribution center has a three-year incident rate for injuries and illnesses that is 72 percent less than the national average for food distribution and marketing businesses such as Sysco.

Commissioner C. Ray Davenport of the Department of Labor and Industry praised the company as one of 66 companies to have earned the star work site designation since the program’s inception in Virginia in 1996. The redistribution center is one of only 45 such firms in the state today.

“It is an honor for me to be among managers and employees who demonstrate such a strong commitment to workplace safety and health,” Davenport told the audience.

Ray Davenport, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, speaks during the award presentation on Thursday at Sysco Northeast Redistribution Center in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Sandra Carson, vice president of enterprise risk management and compliance at Sysco’s corporate headquarters in Houston, said she has “lived and breathed safety for many, many years,” beginning with her early careers as a paramedic and emergency room nurse.

Carson said she has been a strong advocate for high health and safety standards throughout Sysco’s operations, which benefit from having productive, energetic employees.

“Our employees are our most important asset,” Carson said. “If we do right by them, then all those other things are going to come into play.”

Tony Frazier, director of safety at the redistribution center, received credit from others at the ceremony for sparking the effort to quality for the star work site designation.

The requirements for obtaining star workplace status include a written agreement by company leaders to commit themselves to a demanding set of health and safety rules.

Warren County Fire and Rescue chief Richard A. Mabie speaks during Sysco Northeast Redistribution Center's top labor safety award ceremony on Thursday in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

The company must submit an extensive application, written safety and health policies and show rates of illness and injury that fall below the national average for the company’s industry. An intensive weeklong inspection by a state safety expert is also required.

Frazier, who praised the company’s workforce and customers for their roles in upholding safety standards, said in an interview after the ceremony that he has always been passionate about reducing rates of illness and injury among employees.

“My interest has always been that people get home safe at the end of the day,” Frazier said.

Richard E. Mabie, chief of Warren County Fire and Rescue Services, praised Frazier and others in the company for conducting annual fire safety inspections, training and emergency planning for first responders.

“No facility is totally immune from accidents,” Mabie said. “While acknowledging there have been several incidents at Sysco, there has not been any serious damage and, most importantly, no serious injury or loss of life. For that, I commend Tony and his staff for keeping safety at its highest priority for the facility and commend upper management for supporting that direction as well.”

Sandra Carson, vice president of Enterprise Risk Management & Compliance for Sysco, speaks during the Star Worksite award ceremony on Thursday at Sysco Northeast Redistribution Center in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley also saluted the center for its award, which he called “a credit to the commitment of the management of this facility and its concern for its most valuable asset, its employees.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com