What You Need to Know about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The changing of the seasons usually brings along a laundry list of chores to most homeowners, in addition to some chilly weather. One task that should be at the top of the list is making sure your home’s carbon monoxide (CO) detector is working properly.

The presence of carbon monoxide gas is almost impossible to detect without some sort of device. The gas is odorless, colorless, and invisible, and can weave its way throughout your home much easier in the winter months. CO gases are created when heating elements that use natural gas, propane, wood, or oil do not completely burn off their fuels. Breathing in these fumes poisons the body and can be deadly. The effects may appear mild at first, as the individual begins to feel dizzy and nauseous, but can quickly turn to exertion and loss of consciousness.

Fortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable by performing routine safety checks around the house, and by installing and maintaining carbon monoxide detectors within the home. Proper maintenance of the home’s cooking and heating sources is the best place to start, but also consider safeguarding the house from the exhaust fumes of generators and vehicles. Recent statistics from the U.S. National Safety Council show that the two leading causes of accidental death from gases or vapors come from carbon monoxide given off by running vehicles and cooking and heating equipment.

The Center for Disease Control and the National Fire Protection Agency agree that having carbon monoxide detectors in the home is a family’s best line of defense against poisoning. Follow these tips to help protect your home from this deadly gas:

• Only use CO detectors that have been approved by a qualified, independent testing laboratory.

• The sensors in CO devices do not last forever. Abide by the manufacturer’s suggested replacement interval.

• Battery-powered detectors should receive new batteries once a year, unless the directions give a different time frame.

• Choose a centralized location outside of the family’s sleeping area to install the detector, making sure that its alarm can clearly be heard in each bedroom.

• List the phone numbers of the local fire and rescue services with your other emergency contacts.

• Perform a monthly test on all carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are powered and working.

In the event that your detector’s alarm sounds, immediately evacuate your home, leaving doors open and turning off cooking and heating equipment, if possible. Alert the fire department and seek appropriate medical attention if anyone shows symptoms of CO poisoning. After the carbon monoxide levels return to normal, have your home’s equipment inspected for leaks and areas of weakness by a qualified technician.

Remember, carbon monoxide poisoning is serious and deadly, and its symptoms should never be taken lightly. By following the tips mentioned above, you can help protect yourself and your family from the “silent killer” during the wintertime and throughout the year.

When Is It Sexual Harassment and What Can Be Done to Prevent It?

Most employers know that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

While this definition may seem clear cut, the issues surrounding what constitutes sexual harassment are not. One of the most difficult aspects of examining a sexual harassment charge is deciding whether or not the conduct in question was truly harassment, and not just an innocent exchange between consenting adults.

There are two scenarios, that when they exist, are a definitive sign of sexual harassment:

1. Hostile environment – This is the most prevalent type. A work environment becomes a hostile environment when an employee is made so uncomfortable by a pattern of repeated, unwanted behavior that they cannot perform their job.

2. Quid pro quo – This Latin phrase literally means “this for that.” Quid pro quo occurs when a supervisor, or other person acting with authority, withholds, demands, or promises a benefit if the employee submits to unwelcome sexual conduct.

Keep in mind when trying to determine if an employee’s/supervisor’s actions constitute harassment; you have to view the conduct in question from the victim’s perspective. The victim determines whether the conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile environment. The harasser’s intentions do not play a role in the matter.

If there are recurring incidences of employees making sexual harassment charges in your organization, it is probably not a question of supervisors being unaware of inappropriate behavior. Rather it’s a matter of supervisors not taking action when they see inappropriate behavior. Failure to act is far more common than you may think. It is usually the result of a supervisor feeling unsure as to whether the behavior was really unacceptable, or not knowing the proper way to confront the parties involved.

The best way to remove these hindrances is to:

· Establish a sexual harassment policy that sets forth what actions are acceptable, what actions are considered sexually threatening, and what steps will be taken if anyone is found to be in violation of company policy. Once you have clearly defined your policy, document it and provide a copy to each employee. All employees should sign a disclosure that says that not only have they read the policy and understood it, but they also understand the consequences for failing to uphold it.

· Provide training – Supervisors should be given appropriate training in the correct manner of investigating a charge of sexual harassment including the types of questions to ask, how to file a written report, and to whom the report should be given.

It is also a good idea to be proactive in avoiding formal confrontations by periodically walking around and talking with employees. Many times an informal conversation can tip you off to a potential powder keg.

Three Strategies for Lowering Auto Insurance for Your Teen

Teenagers are expensive. Parents pay for their cell phones, sports activities, video games, and when a teen starts driving, parents pay their car insurance. Car insurance is very expensive for teenagers due to their lack of experience on the road. Statistics show that teenagers are involved in a higher number of accidents with fatal or critical injuries than more experienced older drivers. Here are a few ways you may be able to decrease the cost of auto insurance for teen drivers.

  • Check for a good student discount. In the eyes of an insurance company, teenagers who do well in school appear more responsible. Keep in mind that a good student doesn’t mean an honor student. Each insurance company has its own definition of a good student. Your teen may still qualify even if he isn’t at the top of his class. You can also enroll your teen in a driver’s education course, even if it is not mandatory in your state. Find out from your insurance company if a driver’s education course will affect the insurance premiums.
  • Choose an older model car for your teenager. Teens are naturally attracted to shiny new sports cars, but the insurance costs on sports cars are astronomical. The insurance cost is tied to the horsepower rating of the car as well as the theft rate. Older cars also have a lower book value which in turn reduces the insurance premium.
  • Consider raising your deductible. A higher deductible means lower monthly premiums. You can always save the difference in a special account in case you need to draw on it to pay the deductible later in case of an accident or fender bender.

In summary, always be proactive when adding a new driver to your existing insurance policy. Ask questions and do your own research. Discounts are out there if you know where to look.

Top Tips to Streamline the Premium Audit Process

Are you due for a workers’ compensation premium audit? Audits are how insurance rates are determined, and it’s possible that an audit will uncover information that can actually save you money. In any case, it pays to be prepared. These five tips can help you get ready.

  1. Let your broker know when there are changes in your staffing, payroll or areas of operation. This is important not just at audit time but all the time. Your rates are based on variable rating information, including the number of employees, job classifications, the states in which you operate, etc. Updated information results in more accurate premium assessments.
  2. Get your records ready. Your auditor will need to see records such as federal and state tax returns, ledgers, checkbooks, contracts and employee or contractor tax documents. If you prepare your records in advance, you’ll speed up the audit process.
  3. Make sure you break out various types of compensation in your records. For example, to set your premium, your broker considers pay but not contributions to employee benefits packages and other perks, so it’s important to make sure your records are clear on the various types of compensation. Also make sure overtime pay is clearly defined since it’s classified as regular pay for workers’ compensation insurance purposes.
  4. Ensure that contractors have their own insurance. This is important not only from an audit standpoint but from a liability prospective as well. If an uninsured contractor has an accident while performing work on your behalf, you can be held liable. If an audit identifies contractors for whom you don’t have certificates of coverage, you can be charged for their premiums.
  5. Remain on hand to answer questions. As your auditor reviews your material, he or she may have questions or need additional data. If you are available to provide answers, your audit will be completed more quickly.

By following these tips, you’ll be more prepared for your workers’ compensation premium audit. A fast, efficient audit process can save time for both you and your auditor, so it pays to be prepared.

Paying Too Much for Auto Insurance?

To paraphrase President Barack Obama, if you are still feeling the effects of the economic recession, then the recession is not over for you. And chances are good that you may be among those who are still trying to pinch every penny and save money wherever and whenever they can. But have you thought about saving on your car insurance? Car insurance premiums represent a significant chunk of your income each year, so it only makes sense that you should make sure that you are not paying too much for necessary coverage. If you are not getting some of these car insurance discounts, then you are likely paying more than you should:

Safe driver who obeys traffic laws? Discount! The number one determining factor when your car insurance premiums are being calculated is your driving history and the driving history of other drivers on your policy. In fact, many insurers appreciate a good driver that they are willing to knock ten percent off the cost of your insurance for having a clean driving record. Now that’s significant!

Are you an older driver? Discount! Drivers over fifty are often eligible for many discounts on their car insurance. More and more companies are rewarding older drivers for their experience behind the wheel.

Have you taken a defensive driving course? Discount! Defensive driving courses can help you to become a better, safer driver, and your car insurance company knows this. If you can provide proof of taking a qualified defensive driving course, you can score additional savings.

Is your teen driver on the honor roll at her school? Discount! Students who make good grades may be eligible for a discount, as can those students who take a driver’s education course. It pays to be smart!

Is your car equipped with special features? Discount! Airbags, daytime running lights, anti-lock brakes and anti-theft devices are just some of the equipment that might qualify you for savings.

Compare Auto Insurance Rates and Save Even More

Other than qualifying for discounts on your car insurance, you can also reduce the cost of your car insurance by comparing rates with top companies. The quickest and most efficient way to compare rates is to contact a professional insurance agent. Many drivers find that they are able to save thirty percent or more off the cost of car insurance if it’s been a while since their last review.

Returning Employees to Work Has Legal Implications

When making the decision to return an injured employee to work, there are several significant legal issues that must be considered as a result of both state and federal law.

The first consideration is your state’s workers’ compensation laws. While a common objective of workers’ compensation laws is to facilitate the injured worker in returning to a productive job, not all states approach this goal in the same manner.

Your state’s approach probably falls into one of the following three categories:

  • States that provide for a specific number of weeks of rehabilitation and a limited amount for training for the injured worker. After training is complete, the worker is considered rehabilitated. This training component also limits the employer’s liability to find another job for the claimant.
  • States that are considered defined benefit states. A worker is paid for his temporary total disability. If disability reaches a predetermined percentage of body loss, however, the employer can issue a lump-sum payment and close the case, whether the worker can return to work or not. Rehabilitation is a minor part of this approach.
  • States that use loss of earning power as qualification for benefits. Once a worker is injured, his workers’ compensation benefits will continue for life unless he is proven to have an earning power. In these states, the employer at the time of injury must offer a job to the injured employee if one is available within the employee’s physical restrictions. If this is not possible, the law requires that rehabilitation efforts begin.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also presents certain legal considerations concerning the manner in which an injured employee is returned to work. The first consideration is regarding the collection and maintenance of the injured employee’s medical information.

The ADA requires employers to collect this information to determine how to accommodate an employee’s disability and whether the employee is capably of performing a specific job. However, the ADA also mandates that employers:

  • Treat this information as a confidential medical record.
  • Maintain this information on separate forms and keep the forms in separate files.
  • Not use this information for any purpose that is inconsistent with the ADA.

There are also specific rules regarding the disclosure of such information. Supervisors and managers may be informed about necessary restrictions and accommodations arising from the disability. In addition, first aid and safety personnel can be informed if the employee’s condition may require emergency treatment.

Another key consideration under the ADA is whether or not the returning employee is eligible for a particular job. The law says that if an employee can perform the essential parts of a job, they are eligible, even if certain minor aspects of the job cannot be performed. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations as necessary so that the employee can perform the job. This is what is commonly referred to as a “light-duty” assignment.

Decisions regarding necessary accommodations must be accomplished through a joint process involving the employer, employee, and the employee’s doctor. A company refusing to make reasonable accommodations is at risk for a lawsuit. A worker who refuses reasonable light-duty work risks having their benefits or employment terminated.

Consider Cost of Car Insurance when Shopping for a New Ride

Most consumers will usually put forth a great deal of effort and time into searching out the best price for their new car. After all, the majority of America will have a budget for any large ticket purchase. One common mistake that consumers make when budgeting for a new car is only comparing what they can afford with the sticker price or loan payment for the car.

If cost is an issue, especially if choosing a car on the highest end of one’s budget, then it’s vital to factor in how much insurance will cost on the new car. It’s important to remember that car insurance prices will vary based on several car factors: sticker price, safety features, cost of repair, vehicle specific features, and high vs. low profile of vehicle.

Sticker Price

The greater the sticker price of a new or used car is, the more expensive it will be for an insurance company to replace it in the event of an accident. Therefore, the more expensive a car is, the more expensive the insurance will be for it. The added cost of insurance must be factored in to know if a car is truly affordable.

Safety Features

Safety features can have a big impact on car insurance. Features such as anti-lock brakes, airbags, automatic seatbelts, traction control, and airbags are statically proven to greatly reduce the number of accidents and /or injuries that occur while driving a car. The overall safety, class safety rating, and “crashworthiness” of a vehicle is also a factor. Certain states mandate that a discount be given for vehicles with certain safety features. So, be sure and check the safety rating for the car and applicable state law. Five stars indicate the highest safety rating and one star the lowest. 

Repair Cost

The cost to repair the car is another factor that will influence insurance cost. The more expensive a car is, the more expensive the parts will be in the event it ever needs a replaced or repaired part. Then, there are certain brands of cars that usually require a dealership or specialty mechanic for even the simplest repair. These cars usually require brand-specific tools and diagnostic equipment. All of this will result in higher insurance rates.

Car Specific Features

There are certain car features that will impact insurance cost. Hard top vs. soft top, number of doors, and size of engine would be feature examples. As a general rule, domestic cars and minivans are some of the less expensive types of vehicles to insure.

Profile

Some cars are easier to steal and more valuable to car thieves than others. These “high profile” cars are considered magnets for auto theft, and therefore more expensive to insure. Crime databases and local insurance agents can apprise buyers of what cars are considered high profile for their area.

All of the above influences on car insurance can dramatically increase the bottom line cost of acquiring a new car, as they can alter car insurance from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. It’s vital to seek an insurance estimate before deciding if a car is a good deal.

Control Workers’ Comp Costs by Lowering Your Experience Modifier

If you are looking for ways to keep your workers’ compensation insurance costs under control, it’s a good idea to take a look at your experience modifier. In fact, tackling your experience modifier is generally a far more effective method of lowering your costs than shopping around for cheaper workers’ compensation coverage. That’s because the experience modifier is used to calculate your individual rate.

However, many employers don’t fully understand how experience modifiers work. They don’t completely understand how lowering it can help them drastically reduce workers’ compensation costs. Let’s take a closer look.

What is an experience modifier?

The experience modifier is a formula insurance companies use to predict losses that an employer is likely to incur. To arrive at the experience modifier, the insurance company considers losses over a three-year period in history, not including the current policy period. It takes into account not only amounts actually paid as claims but also estimates of future payments for medical treatments or compensation that will be paid to make up for lost wages.

Your experience modifier compares your actual losses with the expected losses for employers operating similarly sized companies in your state and industry. If your experience modifier is 1.00, that means your losses match the average rate. A modifier that is higher than 1.00 reflects higher losses, while a modifier less than 1.00 means lower than expected losses.

Your experience modifier is used to calculate your workers’ compensation insurance premiums, so the lower your modifier, the less you’ll pay. Let’s take a look at ways to lower your experience modifier.

Toward a lower experience modifier

Here are a few tips on lowering your experience modifier:

Create a safer work environment. Since your experience modifier is derived from your workers’ compensation claims history over a three-year period, the most obvious first step is to create a safer work environment. A workplace focus on safety is a great way to improve morale and help keep costs down. Some companies form safety committees to find new ways to reduce workplace injuries and to provide training that helps employees stay safe.

Return employees to work as soon as possible. Another excellent way to keep costs down is to consider a return-to-work program for injured employees. Remember, workers’ compensation claims involve not only medical bills but also claims for lost wages. In many cases, injured employees who are not yet able to return to their former jobs can come back to perform light duty jobs while they complete their recovery. This helps lower claims costs. It’s a good idea to work closely with physicians who specialize in workplace injuries since they can more efficiently treat your employees and may have more experience authorizing returns to work for light duty assignments.

Hire the right people. Another long-term strategy for lowering your experience modifier is to implement good hiring practices. For example, you may want to consider a candidate background check and drug screening program. Employees who use drugs are far more likely to be injured on the job, lowering morale and driving up your costs. It’s always a good idea to be selective about whom you hire, and the likelihood of future on-the-job injuries is one more factor to consider.

The bottom line

When workers’ compensation insurance prices rise, it’s tempting for employers to shop around for new coverage. But the fact is, employers themselves control a major factor in determining rates: the experience modifier. Take control of your workers’ compensation costs by taking steps to create a safer work environment, return employees to work and hire the right people. Not only will you improve operations and employee morale, you’ll save money too.

Check Your Home’s Fire Extinguishers

According to a fire loss study done by the National Fire Protection Association, house fires accounted for 75% of all structural fires in the United States. There’s about 400,000 residential property fires in the U.S. each year, and these residential fires account for over 3,700 human fatalities each year. Even when all other natural disasters are combined, fires still typically claim more American lives per year.

Considering the cost, frequency, and loss of life related to residential fires, it’s important for homeowners to have loss control measures in place. A fire extinguisher may seem like a simple item, but when properly selected, placed, and maintained, a fire extinguisher can be a powerful tool to prevent widespread fire loss. The best thing is that a fire extinguisher is a relatively cheap investment, as prices start at around $20.00.

It’s important to become familiar with the different classes of fire extinguishers. There are five classes, with each class based on what type of fire the extinguisher is capable of extinguishing. The five extinguisher classes are marked with a class specific color, geometric symbol, and/or picture.

Class A Fire Extinguisher

Color – green

Geometric symbol – triangle

Picture – burning garbage can and woodpile

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on ordinary solid combustibles. These types of fires might involve cloth, wood, rubber, paper, or certain types of plastic.

Class B Fire Extinguisher

Color – red

Geometric symbol – square

Picture – container of fuel and burning puddle

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on flammable liquids and gasses. These types of fires might involve lacquers, gasoline, alcohol, diesel oil, oil-based paints, or flammable gas.

Class C Fire Extinguishers

Color – blue

Geometric symbol – circle

Picture – burning outlet and electric cord plug

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on energized electrical equipment. It would be used for fires that involve an appliance, electrical wiring, circuit breaker, or electrical outlet.

Class D Fire Extinguisher

Color – yellow

Geometric symbol – star or decagon

Picture – burning bearing and gear

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on combustible metals. These fires might involve magnesium, potassium, sodium, or titanium. It’s important to note that some Class D fire extinguishers will work on multiple metal types, but others are metal specific.

Class K Fire Extinguisher

Color – black

Geometric symbol – hexagon

Picture – burning pan

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on combustible cooking fires. It can be used to put out fires from cooking oils and fats.

Fire Extinguisher Tips

*Fire extinguishers are important fire protection tools. However, it’s vital to know the fire type and extinguisher class before attempting usage. Using the wrong extinguisher on the wrong fire can make the fire worse and cause life threatening injury.

*It’s extremely important for all members of the household, babysitters, housekeepers, and any other potential user to know how to safely and correctly use the fire extinguisher. Since most will not be using an extinguisher on a regular basis, it’s also important to periodically review the instructions.

*Because fires may often involve a combination of elements, most fire protection experts recommend a fire extinguisher with an ABC rating.

*Fire protection experts recommend that a medium-sized fire extinguisher be placed in the kitchen and garage. A fire extinguisher should also be placed on each additional floor of the home.

*All fire extinguishers should be annually inspected and maintained by a professional fire equipment supplier. If not properly maintained, a fire extinguisher might not discharge when needed. There’s also the risk of it rupturing when pressurized, which can result in serious injury.

* Having fire extinguishers in the home may reduce the cost of home insurance. Contact the insurance broker for the home to find out if a discount for fire loss prevention measures is offered.

 

Keep in mind that fire extinguishers are vital protection against fire loss, but they must be properly selected, placed, and maintained.