Safety is No. 1 priority

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 24, 2008

FRANKLIN—Larry Shaffer has made it his mission to make sure safety procedures are in practice at both his workplace and other job sites around the country and world.

For those efforts, Shaffer, a Voluntary Protection Programs coordinator at International Paper, has been given a national award.

Shaffer, who has worked at the mill for nearly 30 years, received the first ever Special Government Award at a meeting in Anaheim last month. He was recognized at the regular meeting of the Franklin City Council on Monday as well.

“It was a special honor for our community,” he told the council. “I’m proud to represent IP and the citizens of our community.”

“We’re mighty proud of you and what you’re doing” Mayor Jim Council told Shaffer after the recognition. “IP makes a wonderful corporate citizen.”

Shaffer has been a VPP through the Occupational Safety & Health Administration since 2002 and has assisted in more than 10 on-site evaluations.

As the VPP, Shaffer helps maintain safety training, compliance issues and housekeeping standards.

“At IP we are 68 percent below the total incident rate, which is a good thing,” Shaffer said.

Before becoming VPP, he was the mill’s safety coordinator and a paper maker.

Shaffer lost a good friend during a mill accident in 1982. He made it his mission after that to press for higher safety standards at his workplace.

“We were killing someone at this mill every three months,” he told the city council. “But in 13 years now no one has died at the mill site.”

Shaffer said he isn’t alone in pushing for safety. He has many co-workers who are committed to making the mill a safe work environment.

“It’s a team effort,” he said.

In the mid 1990s, there were 125 OSHA “recordables” during the year. That number of reported incidents is down to 10 so far this year.

As part of SGE, Shaffer was sworn in as a government employee and mentors other sites.

“This award is for the work he has done outside of here,” IP spokesman Desmond Stills said. “IP has given Larry that leverage. He has been able to go out and share best practices at other sites and come back (to IP) and share those same things here. It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Stills said. “The fact that the federal government has recognized his work is confirming what we already knew. Larry is doing a great job.”

The safety efforts put in places at star sites throughout the country have saved OSHA more than $3 million.

The work that Shaffer does with IP safety programs directly affects the community as well, Stills said. Workers are trained in safety measures and are sometimes called upon to help with emergency situations outside of the plant.

“The county doesn’t bear the expense of that,” Stills said.

Shaffer also has received the 2008 Mentor Award for mentoring both Coors Brewery and Wyeth Phamaceuticals into the Virginia program.