Fireplace Maintenance

fireplace maintenanceYour fireplace looks beautiful and adds warmth to your home. It can also be a fire hazard, though. Protect your home and family as you enjoy the beautiful ambiance when you follow a fireplace maintenance schedule and implement safety tips this winter.

Check the Chimney

An essential part of your fireplace, the chimney needs a thorough inspection once a year. Hire a professional to look for cracks and other damage and to clean out combustible buildup like creosote. Then, secure a spark-arrestor screen to the chimney as you prevent dangerous sparks from escaping and damaging animals from entering.

Start the Fire Safely

Before you light a relaxing fire, open the flue. Start the fire with only approved materials like newspaper and dry logs. Once you have the fire going, don’t use it to burn holiday gift wrapping or grill food.

Maintain the Screen or Door

Every fireplace needs a safety screen or glass door. It prevents sparks from flying into your home and discourages your children or pets from reaching into the fireplace. Ensure the screen is constantly in place and free from any damage as you reduce accidental burns and other injuries.

Remove Combustibles

Flammable rugs, draperies, paper and other combustibles should be located at least three feet away from the fireplace. Otherwise, these combustible materials could cause a fire.

Use the Right Tools

Metal tools safely adjust logs and remove ash. Store them near the fireplace (but out of your children’s reach!)

Provide Proper Supervision

Always supervise your fire. If left unattended, sparks could start a fire in your home or your children or pets could walk into the bright but hot embers.

Remove Ash and Coal Properly

A one-inch layer of ash in the firebox insulates the fire. To remove excess ash or coals, wait until they’re completely cool. Use an ash vacuum or metal shovel, and place the materials in a secure metal container outdoors.

You’ll safely enjoy your fireplace all season when you use proper fireplace maintenance procedures. For more fireplace safety tips, visit This Old House online. Keeping your home in top condition can actually help reduce your insurance premiums. Give us a call today to update your home insurance policy and provide a layer of protection for your family and house.

Protect Your Electronics!

protect your electronicsWhether using your electronic devices for socializing, working or gaming, you want to protect your valuables from theft. Follow six tips as you protect your electronics at home, in your vehicle or at a public location like the library or coffee shop.

1. Invest in LoJack

While LoJack is known for automotive theft protection, it can also protect your electronics from theft. Use its software to track your devices, lock them and even remotely delete data.

2. Use a Kensington Lock

Leave your laptop sitting on the table while you check out books, use the bathroom or refill your coffee, and it will probably be stolen. Take precautions and carry your laptop with you or use a small but powerful Kensington lock to secure your laptop to your office, library or dorm desk.

3. Hide Your Devices

From carrying your computer to class in a nondescript bag to placing your GPS in the trunk after you park your car on campus, hiding your devices goes a long way toward preventing their theft. You’ll also want to throw away the device’s packaging so that no one can snoop around your home and see what you own.

4. Lock the Doors

Keep your home and vehicle doors locked, and you deter thieves from accessing your electronics.

5. Register Your Devices

When you buy electronics, take the time to register then with the manufacturer. Those companies often cooperate with the police to find stolen electronics.

6. Buy Theft Insurance

Adding these devices to your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy won’t protect your electronics from theft. However, the right insurance could replace stolen electronics. Give us a call to ensure you have replacement coverage on everything from your laptop and printer to your tablet and MP3 player. To prove the value of the devices you own, save the purchase receipts and record the serial numbers with your insurance policy in a secure location.

Forklift Safety

forklift safetyForklifts have revolutionized the construction industry, but they have also created the risk of serious injury and death for drivers, other employees, and pedestrians.

Although following the rules for forklift safety operation – safety checks, maintenance inspections, and so on –are time consuming, they’re essential for workplace safety.

To help ensure that your construction projects stay productive and accident-free, we’d recommend these guidelines:

· Designate walking and driving paths. Many accidents happen because a worker was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Help prevent such incidents by clearly marking paths for foot traffic and forklift lanes. Yellow tape is easier to notice than signs, and won’t become covered with dirt or debris like floor marks.

· Have the right tires. A blowout could cause an accident or halt productivity. The type of tire is perhaps the most important difference between forklifts that only operate indoors and those used outdoors. While indoor forklift-tire sizes relate to truck weight, aisle and lift height, tires for outdoor lifts aim to prevent punctures.

· Identify gradient inconsistencies. The floor gradient is an important consideration because slight changes can cause a tip-over. This is the number one cause of death and serious injury to forklift operators.

· Because forklift designs vary significantly, choose the appropriate model. The first factor to consider is the maximum load. Trying to lift a load that exceeds this capacity can damage the arms or cause a tip-over. When possible, assign drivers who have experience with the model you’re using. If this isn’t an option, make sure the driver understands the limitations of this forklift and can do pre- and post-operation maintenance checks.

Our agency’s specialists are happy to help keep your staff and equipment safe on the job. Forklift safety is an important part of risk management. Interested in learning more? Read our article on 7 Construction Safety Myths. As always, feel free to give us a call to discuss any questions or concerns. We’re here for you.

Internet Defamation – Words Have Power

internet defamationSocial media is a great way build your business’s reputation. Interactivity between merchants and customers has helped many unheard of boutique shops become Internet darlings with maxed out sales. However, fostering social media on your website or participating in social media on another’s blog can be dangerous.

The danger is Internet Defamation.

What is Internet Defamation?

Defamation is when a person makes false statements about your business such as stating that you use discriminatory practices in hiring, or you use dishonest practices dealing with your customers. Making statements like these and putting them on the Internet for anyone and everyone to see is libel. There are important elements for a statement on the Internet to earn the label of a defamatory.

  • The person who published the statement was not the person defamed
  • The statement is a false statement of fact
  • The false statement was understood to be:
    • About the plaintiff and
    • Designed to harm the reputation of the plaintiff
  • Should the plaintiff be a public figure he or she must also prove malice.

Businesses with a presence on the Internet, especially if the Internet site encourages comments and dialogs among visitors need to be especially vigilant monitoring about what other users post on their site. There is a powerful federal law known as Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code (47 USC § 230). This federal law is part of the Communication Decency Act of 1996. This law has precedence over any local or state laws and protects owners of interactive computer service providers from claims of defamation from postings made through reader’s comments and entries of guest bloggers. In other words, this law gives you, as a web host, protection from claims made from hosting information written by third parties.

Then why should a business watch what third parties say on their site? This is a valid question. You want your site and blogs to promote your brand, not distract from that purpose by allowing a “flame war” on your sites.

Allowing an offensive statement to stay on your site — even when written by a third-party — is off-putting to potential clients and customers.

Imagine: your own employee gets baited into a discussion and tries to defend your business. He then engages in Internet Defamation costing you customers and even cash if a lawsuit against you goes to court. Words have power.

Insurance for Internet Defamation

Even though the Section 230 language and the truth – if what you said is true it is not libel – help keep the threat of you being successfully sued for Internet Defamation lower, it is a risk that your insurance advisor can cover through your BOP policy, your General Liability Insurance, or an Umbrella Policy.

Talk with one of our risk specialists to understand your exposures and the best way to cover them with insurance.

Prevent Cold Weather Injuries

The winter months are the most dangerous for people who work outdoors. Often workers succumb to cold weather illness when working outside. However, employees in other industries also have ongoing cold exposure as well.

These workers include:

  • cold weatherDelivery People
  • Postal Workers
  • Maritime employees
  • Food Processing Workers
  • Cold storage industry
  • Supermarket worker
  • Tow truck operators

Cold is punishing to people and exposure to cold has many negative effects that include dehydration, frostbite, numbness, shivering, hypothermia and immersion foot disease.

What Ongoing Cold Exposure Does

Hypothermia

Continued cold exposure first affects the limbs, toes and fingers and then progresses deeper into the body tissues and the core of the body. If the core temperature of the body dips below 95 degrees F, the worker has hypothermia. Hypothermia is a dangerous illness and along with frostbite is one of the two most dangerous dangers of working in a cold environment – inside or out.

Frostbite

When a person’s skin is has a severe reaction to cold, frostbite can occur. Frostbite freezes the skin and makes crystals of the body fluids including blood. The chilling effect of frostbite is permanent damage to hands and feet, ears, and the nose. When frostbite is severe, the worker may have to undergo an amputation.

Other Dangerous Illnesses

Frostbite and Hypothermia are the two most common cold environment illnesses workers get from cold exposure. Other significant cold weather injuries include:

  • Cold Immersion
  • Chilblains
  • Trench Foot

Prevention of Cold Weather Injuries

Keeping feet warm and dry is the best prevention measure against trench foot and frostbite of the foot. Boots that have insulation and are waterproof is one type of the many personal protection equipment available for cold weather injury prevention. Other measures include long johns that have insulation, cold weather outer coats, space heaters where possible and other appropriate cold climate measures.

Preventing cold weather injuries is better than treating them and having your construction company’s worker compensation rates rise. Make sure that you take all reasonable measures to prevent these types of injury. For more protective measures, see our Cold Weather Checklist, and also check out this article by Juan Rodriguez – good stuff.

Risk Management vs. Insurance

risk managementRisk management is a process by which business risks are identified, analyzed, engineered, reduced, eliminated or transferred. Often, insurance is the final transfer of risk.

Certain risks point to insurance solutions, for example large liability limits for products or automobile exposures.

Other risks immediately point to engineering or operational risk management. Think of insurance as replacing a monetary loss. If a building burns to the ground, money replaces the loss as building funds or asset value. Now, think of losses that money cannot replace. Money will not buy a second Mona Lisa.

Failure to recover data from damaged computers, loss of cryogenically stored materials, losing the irreplaceable — these risks require management.

The cloud changes the data recovery problems of the past, but it exposes data to misuse and mischief. Simply keep a second portable record separate from the original. This duplication technique can be used for inventory management too; split mission critical stock storage into two locations.

Use redundant monitoring systems on refrigeration or other climate controlled areas. Implement a self-contained back-up energy supply such as a generator. If money cannot replace the materials stored, take avoidance and reduction loss control measures.

Do you have a product which requires a high level of expertise to operate properly?

Once the product leaves your care, poor operator training can lead to injuries or property losses. Distinguishing between defective equipment and operator error can be difficult, or it may become secondary to the financial depths of the stakeholders’ pockets.

If your product requires operational expertise, reconsider selling it as a service whereby your own personnel complete the task. You may save your company exposure to liability claims.

Risk management techniques work well with non-monetary issues or when components are irreplaceable at any price. Think through your operations and identify risks which cannot be solved with money. Risk manage those. We can help.

Car Maintenance: Winter Weather Checklist

car maintenance

Cold weather is here, but it doesn’t have to slow you down. Have you taken the time to make sure your car is prepped for winter weather? There are several things you can do to protect your vehicle and help it run properly all winter. Here are some car maintenance tips to get you started.

Check the tire tread. In most states, it must be at least 2/32-inches, which you can measure by placing a penny in the tire – adequate tread will cover part of Lincoln’s head. However, because your vehicle’s ability to stop on slippery surfaces decreases when the tread reaches 4/32″, consider replacing worn tires with all-weather tires for better traction.

Change the windshield wipers. These two pieces of equipment clear snow, ice and debris from your windshield. To work properly, they must be free from rips and wear.

Charge the battery. With full juice, your battery’s ready to start no matter how low the temperature falls. Clean the terminals and double check that the battery’s secure, too.

Fill the fluids. Antifreeze, windshield washer, transmission and brake fluid assist your vehicle in running smoothly. Fill these fluids to the recommended level as you prep your vehicle for winter.

Keep your vehicle fueled at all times. You never know when you’ll become stuck in traffic or a snow drift, and you’ll be thankful for a full gas tank in those situations.

Stock an emergency kit. A few supplies assist you in flagging help and staying safe in almost any weather. They include:

  1. A small shovel
  2. Traction material like kitty litter or sand
  3. Flares
  4. Fire extinguisher
  5. Blanket
  6. Charged cellphone
  7. Flashlight and extra batteries
  8. First aid kit
  9. Water and non-perishable food like energy bars or nuts
  10. Small amount of cash for fuel or other emergencies

Update your auto insurance. From fender benders to hail damage, adequate insurance gives you peace of mind and ensures you have financial resources to fix your vehicle.

Don’t let winter weather keep you at home. Follow these car maintenance tips and prepare your vehicle now. For more helpful info, visit www.carcare.org. As always, feel free to give us a call with any questions.

Have a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and that means kitchens all around America are ready to see some serious action. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving is the leading day for home fires involving cooking equipment, with 3 times the average number.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe while you whip up all that delicious goodness next week…

  1. Thanksgiving safety tipsWatch it like a hawk – errr… turkey. Don’t leave your stovetop unattended. Keep an eye on those burners!
  2. Keep the kids occupied. Your stove is going to be hot, and kids should stay at least 3 feet away. Plan to have some cool activities ready for them to help keep them out of the kitchen while you cook.
  3. Check the floor. Try to keep your floor clear of anything that might get tripped over in the chaos of getting everything ready. There’s nothing worse than dropping that dish of Grandma’s mashed potatoes just before it’s time to eat!
  4. Wind it up. We use all kinds of appliances on Thanksgiving – electric knife, coffee maker, mixer, etc. Don’t let those cords dangle off the counter in easy reach of a child.
  5. Arm the Alarms. Check your smoke detectors in advance of the craziness to be sure they have fresh batteries and are functioning properly.

Check out the NFPA website for more safety tips. You can also download the tips here.

Have a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and that means kitchens all around America are ready to see some serious action. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving is the leading day for home fires involving cooking equipment, with 3 times the average number.

Here are some Thanksgiving safety tips to help you stay safe while you whip up all that delicious goodness next week…

  1. Thanksgiving safety tipsWatch it like a hawk – errr… turkey. Don’t leave your stovetop unattended. Keep an eye on those burners!
  2. Keep the kids occupied. Your stove is going to be hot, and kids should stay at least 3 feet away. Plan to have some cool activities ready for them to help keep them out of the kitchen while you cook.
  3. Check the floor. Try to keep your floor clear of anything that might get tripped over in the chaos of getting everything ready. There’s nothing worse than dropping that dish of Grandma’s mashed potatoes just before it’s time to eat!
  4. Wind it up. We use all kinds of appliances on Thanksgiving – electric knife, coffee maker, mixer, etc. Don’t let those cords dangle off the counter in easy reach of a child.
  5. Arm the Alarms. Check your smoke detectors in advance of the craziness to be sure they have fresh batteries and are functioning properly.

Check out the NFPA website for more Thanksgiving safety tips. You can also download the tips here.

Who’s Your Star?

key man insurance

Small and medium-sized businesses often have employees that are “stars.” Sometimes the star is the CEO or president, other times there is a salesperson who consistently outsells every other sales team member by a two to one margin. Maybe you’re a software company that has a star coder whose ideas led to your product being a number one editor’s choice. The point is that most companies have an employee or two that helps their business thrive. What happens to your business in the short-term if a star employee, referred to by the insurance industry as a “key man,” dies?

According to a study conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), only 22% of small businesses carry this type of coverage.

Death is an issue that most people do not like discussing, so many small and medium-sized businesses do not have detailed succession plans, and key person life insurance remains an unresolved issue. It is a discussion that helps your company survive the difficult times that can follow the death of a key person.

What is Key Person Life Insurance?

Key man life insurance protects a business from economic loss relating to the death of a key employee. The company buys the insurance, owns the policy, and is the beneficiary of the policy in the event of the sudden death of the insured. Payment from the insurance company to the business is a lump sum, and there are no restrictions on how the company can use the money. Most companies use the money to stabilize the business until they find the key person’s replacement.

Types of Key man Life Insurance

Businesses gravitate to two kinds of policies for key employee life insurance.

Term Life Insurance. Startups favor this type of policy. Startups always try to conserve cash, term life insurance is cheaper than any other kind of personal life insurance.

Policies that build cash value. Whole life or universal life insurance builds cash value that increases the cash value of the policy and is an asset on the company’s book. The company can get access to the excess cash value of the policy at any time for any purpose since the money from the cash buildup belongs to them.

Life insurance premiums vary between companies and smart companies comparison shop for the best insurance program.

The discussion is uncomfortable, but if you do not have key man insurance, it’s worth talking about. Give us a call.