Advantages of Home Automation Systems

Although many people have heard the term home automation, few understand what it is. Automating a home involves multiple installations of modern devices that control various functions. While most people feel that something should not be fixed unless it is broken, it is best to keep in mind that this is just a beneficial enhancement. Automating a home results in several advantages, which are included in the following points.

1. It saves money on utilities. These expenses may add up to amounts well over $100 or even $300 each month. A home automation system turns off lights automatically, optimizes thermostat settings continuously and contributes to a reduction in the utility bill. The reduction is usually between 10 and 25 percent.

2. It makes many tasks more efficient. Some tasks are repetitive. For example, a routine of turning off five specific lights before watching television would normally consist of five separate tasks. With the push of one button, a home automation system can turn off a designated set of lights.

3. It is good for the environment. For very good reasons, society is pushing toward environmental awareness. Home automation is the perfect solution for preserving natural resources by reducing power consumption.

4. It provides home security features. While home security is an issue on the minds of most people, many cannot afford the costly installation or monthly monitoring fees. Home automation systems provide a much more affordable solution for security. However, they also have many other beneficial features that other home security systems lack.

5. It decreases safety risks. Poor lighting is one of the main causes of accidents in the home. For example, a person trying to climb the stairs while fumbling for a light switch is likely to fall. Automation systems turn lights on and off in stairways as people approach or leave them. Since appliances, lights and electrical devices are shut off automatically, the risk of a fire starting is lower.

6. It provides peace of mind. Although this is not a physical feature of a home automation system, it is one of the most important advantages. Peace of mind reduces worries and stress. Homeowners who have surveillance cameras installed and connected to the Internet can also monitor activity remotely. This provides an easy way to see what kids are doing when they are home. Kids’ activities on the computer can also be restricted with a home automation system.

7. It is something that benefits the entire family. As families learn about their system’s functions and capabilities, they have a chance to enjoy time together. It also provides a way for kids to learn more about technology.

Home automation systems may also have other advantages that are specific to certain individuals. For example, pet owners enjoy being able to see what their furry friends are doing while they are away. Parents with small children can monitor babysitters or nannies to ensure they are treating the kids well. To learn more about these advantageous systems, discuss the options with an agent.

Pull Out All the Stops – Prevent Electrical Shock in the Workplace

Approximately 700 deaths a year are caused by electrocution, according to the National Safety Council.  This is alarming considering that most of these deaths are easily preventable.  Employers should be aware of this and take steps to implement an overall electrical safety plan that will guard against future accidents of this kind.  OSHA maintains standards that dictate minimum compliance requirements.  This can be the first step in ensuring that the workplace is governed by firm safety rules, but also reinforced through training and monitored on a regular basis.  A safe workplace should also be in compliance with the National Electrical Code (NEC) and National Electrical Safety Code (NESC).

When training employees provide documentation detailing specific safety guidelines that employees need to follow.  Training should include instruction in basic electrical theory, safe work procedures, identification of potential hazards and proper lockout/tagout procedures.  Employees should also receive training in First Aid and CPR. 

It is essential to protect workers who work near electrical power circuits.  Many employers and workers are unaware that even a small amount of current is enough to prove fatal.  Circuits should be deactivated prior to working on or around them.  If this is not possible other measures, such as insulating tools and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be followed.

When starting a new project it is essential to identify potential electrical hazards and plan accordingly to ensure employee safety.  OSHA identifies electrical shock as one of the four major hazards in construction.

The most frequent causes of electrical injuries according to OSHA are:

  • Failure to de-energize electric circuits and equipment before working on them
  • Contact with power lines
  • Lack of ground-fault protection
  • Path to ground missing or discontinuous
  • Equipment not used in manner prescribed
  • Improper use of extension and flexible cords

In addition to training and protection, periodic inspection of electrical equipment will help prevent injuries.  Equipment that produces shock, or wires showing visible signs of wear should be removed and either repaired or replaced immediately.

Take step to ensure electrical safety before an accident occurs.  Prevention is the key to saving lives.

Sarbanes Oxley – Making the Corporate Jungle Safer?

Depending on whom you talk to, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was either a panacea to cure the ailing stock market and restore trust in Corporate America or a shot to the bow of America’s capitalist vision.  Just what is Sarbanes-Oxley and whom does it affect?

Sarbanes-Oxley is a complex patchwork of legislative reform of the American system of corporate governance, legal counsel and financial oversight of publicly traded companies. 

Among the key implications of the Act:

—      CEOs and CFOs must certify the financial reports of their companies and face stiffer penalties for knowing or willful violations, including personal liability for noncompliance.

—      Added disclosures are required on the company financials.

—      The SEC must adopt new rules requiring that independent audit committees be created that are authorized to engage advisors.

—      New criminal and civil penalties for directors and officers for, among other things, destroying or changing records and knowingly executing a scheme to defraud investors.

—      Takes away some of the self-policing capability of the accounting industry by creating a five member Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which is overseen by the Securities Exchange Commission.

—      Similar to the effect on the accounting profession, the legal profession is hit with new regulations, some of which run counter to the self-policing activities of the state bars and presents lawyers with the conundrum of trying to comply with the law while retaining a main cornerstone of the legal profession – attorney client privilege.


Some say Sarbanes-Oxley has had a chilling effect on the American Dream.  Where the rallying cry of the ’90’s was “Go public!,” Sarbanes-Oxley might have turned that into “Go private!” for the future, particularly for the small public companies for whom the new regulations create a cash drain.   But, despite the lure of going private, some insurance industry and legal experts theorize that Sarbanes-Oxley’s effect on public company accounting will put a new onus on private companies as well.  They recommend that private companies follow some of the same rules on a voluntary basis to avoid potential common law negligence. 

Sarbanes-Oxley’s exacting standards have had a dramatic impact on the Directors and Officers Insurance market, which was already reeling from the effects of corporate scandals, and the shrinking of capital in the reinsurance marketplace that was sharpened by the effects of 9/11.  Rates have gone up dramatically and capacity has shrunk, leaving some companies underinsured when they need it most. 

Accountants, particularly CPAs that do public audit work, have felt similar effects.  Fewer companies today are willing to write Accountants Professional Liability for such firms.  The same goes for law firms that specialize in securities law.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspects of Sarbanes-Oxley, at least for corporate officers, are the punitive provisions for knowingly or willfully committing “white-collar” crimes.   The problem with discerning the effects of these provisions is the difficulty in assessing culpability.   It is possible that fingers might point at parties, who should have known what was going on during their watch, but did not “knowingly” or “willfully” perpetrate a fraud.  The line between benign incompetence and intentional acts might be blurry at times, but directors and officers still face the risk of being caught in the maelstrom of public outrage.   

The best advice that anyone can be given, who is entertaining the notion of becoming a board member of a public corporation, is think twice.  Make sure you know that the company has adequate D & O Insurance with a reputable carrier, and the coverage provides defense against fraud allegations until guilt is proven (in many cases the insurer will settle out of court before guilt becomes a factor in coverage determination).  Moreover, make sure that the limits are adequate for the size of the company.  Although there is no one rule of thumb for adequate limits, most public companies should have at least $25 million in coverage to afford adequate protection. The Microsoft’s and IBM’s of the world should obviously carry much more. 

Private companies can purchase D & O Insurance too, often at more reasonable prices, and with a host of other pertinent coverages such as Employment Practices Liability, Kidnap & Ransom, Fiduciary Liability and sometimes-even Professional Liability comprised under one insurance program.   Whether you purchase on a package basis or a la carte, if you have not looked into D & O Insurance before, now may be the right time.  

Don’t Let Driving Emergencies Take You by Surprise

There are two golden rules to remember when driving – expect the unexpected and be ready for anything. Many agencies, such as the National Safety Council, have compiled listings of the most common road emergencies and the ways that drivers can best handle them safely. Let’s look at six of them:

1. Blown Tire

Don’t over-steer, but do maintain a firm, steady grip on the wheel to keep the vehicle going in the desired direction until you’re able to slow it down. Keep in mind that a front blown tire will cause the vehicle to pull toward the blowout’s side, while a rear blown tire will cause the vehicle’s rear end to weave. Apply your brakes smoothly and slowly enough that you can pull the car to the side of the road at a safe speed. Never immediately swerve to the side of the road or jam on the brakes as you could lose control.

2. Blown / Malfunctioning Headlights

Slowly brake and come to a stop on the right shoulder. Try to get as far away from passing traffic as possible. Turn on your emergency flashers, if they’re still operational, and place road hazard markers or flares at least 300 feet from the rear of your vehicle. If you don’t have a cell phone to call for roadside assistance, then you can open the hood and try to scrape the battery cable’s lead terminal posts and the inside of connector lugs. This may provide a better connection and enough intermittent light to make it to a phone. As a last resort, you could use your emergency flashers as an intermittent light source if they’re on a separate circuit.

3. Skidding Vehicle

Remove your foot from the gas. Steer into the direction of the skid until you feel your rear wheels get traction again. Now, straighten the wheel. Never jam on the brakes or over-steer during the skid. To avoid skidding to one side when you need to come to a sudden stop, you can rapidly jam and immediately release the brakes. For those with anti-lock brakes, keep your foot on the brake and continue firm pressure while steering.

4. Engine Failure

Turn your right signal on and let the vehicle’s momentum carry you to the shoulder. If this isn’t a possibility, then remain in your lane or along the right side. Pump your brakes and turn your emergency flashers on to let other drivers know you’re in trouble. Once you’ve come to a stop, you’ll ideally exit the vehicle on the side without traffic flow. You can alert other vehicles by placing reflectors or flares; keeping your taillights on; and placing a white cloth around your handle, spoiler, or antenna. Use your cell phone to call for help or flag down a law officer. There may be an emergency call box on long bridges.

5. Stuck Accelerator

Turn off the ignition and apply the brakes. Keep in mind that your power assist feature will no longer work and braking and steering will be more difficult. Never lean down to handle the gas pedal, but you can try to lift the pedal with your toe if the pedal and throttle linkage have a positive connection.

6. Brake Failure

If your brakes still functioning properly, but you have a system light indicating a brake failure, then you should slowly take the most level route to a service station or mechanic shop.

If your breaks don’t feel normal, but are still offering some resistance, then pump them rapidly. This action could build enough hydraulic pressure to slow your vehicle down. You might be lucky enough to have a clear road and be able to coast to a stop or roll and apply your parking brake. Use your horn and flash your lights to alert pedestrians and other vehicles. You might need to carefully sideswipe hedges, snow banks, parked cars, and/or guardrails to help your vehicle stop if your on a downward, steep roadway. Never swerve to the left of a vehicle in your path unless it’s your only choice. If you’re headed straight for another vehicle, firmly press the brakes; head for a shoulder, ditch, or open ground on the right side; and try to alert others with your horn.

Driving emergencies are hard to think through as they’re happening. For the best outcome possible, you’ll need to know what the potential emergencies are, know how to safely deal with them ahead of time, and make the subjects part of your family’s safety discussions.

Safety Incentive Programs -Do They Really Work?

The practice of rewarding or paying employees for not having workplace accidents is controversial.  With hopes of reducing costly workers’ compensation claims and improving the safety culture of their organization, companies are increasingly implementing safety incentive programs.

Professionals who support safety incentives believe they can be a healthy component of an existing safety program, to build interest in working safely, and thus reduce workplace accidents.  They find it a valuable tool to show employees that they care about their workers’ safety and believe that it can have lasting effects and improve morale.  They also see that it dissuades exaggerated or false injury claims.

Those who discourage companies from implementing safety incentive programs often believe they are no more than a form of bribery.  Because incentive programs do not involve a core change in existing procedures or conditions, this group fears they can actually create a negative safety culture that promotes underreporting of accidents.   They feel they reward the wrong behavior because accidents are usually not intentional acts and do not only involve improper actions.  Usually it is unsafe conditions and inadequate procedures that contribute to causes of accidents.

Even proponents see that a safety incentive program by itself does not constitute a corporate safety program.  Employees cannot improve their safety record if they do not already have the training to know how to manage hazards and work safely. 

When a company’s safety program is not already functioning and effective, adding a safety incentive program could promote the underreporting of accidents as employees pursue rewards and, in group incentive scenarios, avoid being the reason why their fellow employees don’t receive their rewards.

To be effective, a corporation’s safety incentive program must be thoughtfully developed, launched and maintained.  Generally these programs fail because of inadequate commitment from management level staff or poor program administration.  What is most important when considering an incentive program is that the company’s existing program is strong and effective, that upper management is active in all stages of the program in a way that is visible to employees, that the program is well structured with goals and rewards tailored to the workforce and that communication about the program to employees is ongoing.

Homeowners Insurance & Lawsuits

It is common for neighbors to disagree. For example, one person may think that their outdoor dog barking at people passing by is an asset for keeping them safer from intruders. However, a neighbor who enjoys peace and quiet would think the dog is a nuisance. Another neighbor may enjoy listening to his or her music at a loud volume, but others who live in the neighborhood will likely find it annoying. Some situations may not be about noise. People who live in neighborhoods with a uniform appearance may hassle a new homeowner who decides to paint his or her house a clashing color. Whether the source of the problem is noise or something else, disagreements between neighbors can escalate into lawsuits. Before this happens, it is important to know what types of provisions a homeowners policy provides for legal issues.

Many people think that a homeowners insurance policy covers most types of lawsuits filed against them. For this reason, people are usually not as careful as they should be about preventing them. For example, consider a new homeowner who moves into a subdivision, replaces the existing fence with higher boards and paints them contrasting colors. If the subdivision has rules about the permissible colors and acceptable maximum height of fences, they will try to get the new homeowner to comply. Homeowners who refuse may find themselves facing a lawsuit for violating the subdivision’s code. The courts will likely favor the subdivision’s rules, and a homeowners policy will not provide coverage for the legal battle. Therefore, it is important to understand exactly what legal issues are covered under the policy.

Loud noises, eyesores and changes are all issues that do not physically harm another person. While they may be annoying, they are not issues that would be covered by a homeowners policy if they escalate into a lawsuit. Always remember that a homeowners policy offers protection for two types of liabilities, which are property damage and bodily injury. If the family dog bites someone on the property, a guest falls off a broken step or one of the kids breaks a visitor’s car window, a homeowners policy covers such issues.

Since coverage is limited to two types of physical damage, it is important to work as hard as possible to settle disputes with neighbors. For example, if neighbors complain about a barking dog, it may be best to enroll the dog in training or purchase a no-bark citronella collar. Trim overgrown shrubs or trees that neighbors may complain about. Many people get angry and frustrated when a neighbor makes accusations or complains. Anger is usually what causes people to be stubborn and refuse to compromise. Always listen to what neighbors have to say, and try to understand the situation from their perspective. Use common sense to arrive at a solution that is favorable to both parties. However, the best way to avoid anger and confrontation is to fix possible nuisances before neighbors complain. For additional information about avoiding problems and lawsuits with neighbors, discuss the issues with an agent.

Mind Your Business: Surveillance Cameras and Video Monitoring

Surveillance and video monitoring have become very affordable, easy to implement, and effective. For very little investment, cameras can stream video onto the internet so the owner can monitor and record activities in their business, on site or remotely.

Data storage, that is image storage, is almost limitless; and the video history of the store can be kept in multiple locations for safety and replacement ease. Keeping logs and indexes simplifies filing to a few mouse clicks.

This video record has multiple uses. In real time, monitoring can deter violent crime, shoplifting, or employee theft. It can help address customer service by dispatching employees to underserved areas of a store, recognize a need for restocking merchandise, or securing a blind area on the premises.

Monitoring your business from any remote location allows you the freedom and capacity to balance your family and professional life better.

Historically, employee surveillance focused on stolen trade secrets and theft of goods. When computers became mainstream, production, sales, key strokes, and time wasting became monitor-able issues. The company would sweep off all games and lock out internet sites, monitor key strokes for productivity, even keep hours worked time cards based on key strokes.

Call center managers then recorded and/or listened in on calls for training purposes. With video capability, safety and security concerns are addressed.

Employees trained in safe behavior and conflict resolution may be better than those who are simply monitored; watching does not replace training. So, what are the effective uses of monitoring and surveillance?

Certainly watching the perimeter of the business, exits, entrances, and sensitive areas prevents break-ins and provides evidence when crimes occur. Monitoring the inside of the business after hours does much the same and helps detect fires, water leakage, earthquake damage, and other losses where quick response is vital.

When the public is on the premises, crime prevention, safety, and liability loss prevention top the list of concerns. Video has been used to discourage criminals from choosing businesses as a target, to witness parking lot dings and accidents, to prove the illegitimacy of slip and fall claims, and generally to keep records of what did and did not occur.

The video record of events is a great training tool. Choose examples of good customer service, poor service, difficult customers, identify good customers on sight for new employees, good lifting techniques and other safety tips, correct and incorrect behavior, or any other teaching moment gleaned from the tapes can become a lesson viewable at the convenience of the employee rather than holding a formal session on expensive company time.

One restaurant client even holds an “Academy Award” dinner with tapes from the year. Worst tray spill, funniest moment, most bizarre event, or any other noteworthy clip.

Perhaps if a customer goes out of their way to help a lost child or carry bags for an elderly patron, you can reward them with a framed picture of the event or a gift card.

You cannot possibly see and know everything that goes on in your business without employing many eyes. Cameras and surveillance equipment work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a one-time cost which is very affordable. No vacations, no health benefits, reliable, accessible from anywhere at any time. And, their memories are flawless. 

Best Practices for Arc Welding Safety

A welder’s job can be dangerous in more ways than what would appear to be evident.  Not only are there immediate injuries, like burns, but there are also injuries that can develop over time. 

Ultraviolet Radiation (UV) is created by an electric arc while you are welding.  If your skin is exposed to UV, you can be severely burned.  UV exposure can also damage the lens of the eye, which can lead to what is called “arc-eye.” Arc-eye is a condition in which you constantly feel as though there is sand in your eye. Another type of hazard created by the electric arc is Infrared Radiation (IR). IR can heat the surface of the skin as well as the tissues just below the skin, which can lead to thermal burns. Arc welding also exposes you to intense light and this can result in a variety of injuries, including damage to the retinas of your eyes.

That is why it is so important that you are properly clothed and protected from the heat, ultra-violet rays and infrared rays produced by the arc welder. To protect your torso, you should wear a pair of fire retardant long sleeved coveralls without cuffs. Do not wear clothing with tears, snags, rips, or worn spots because sparks can easily ignite them. Keep your sleeves and collars buttoned at all times while you are welding. Your hands should be protected with leather gauntlet gloves. Protect your feet by wearing a pair of high top leather shoes, preferably safety shoes. If you do wear low shoes, fire resistant leggings should be worn around your ankles.

Your eyes are one of the most vulnerable parts of your body when you are welding, so wear transparent goggles to protect them. In addition, it is mandatory that you wear a welding helmet or hand shield with filter plate and cover plate to protect your eyes from the harmful rays of the arc. Never use a helmet if the filter plate or cover lens is cracked or broken. A flameproof skullcap to protect the hair and head and hearing protection for the noise are also good practices.

Plastic disposable cigarette lighters are very dangerous around heat and flame. It is very important that you don’t carry them in your pockets while you are welding.

The work you are welding should be placed on a firebrick surface at a height that is comfortable for you. You should never weld directly on a concrete floor. Heat from the arc can cause steam to build-up in the floor, which could result in an explosion. Place the welder cables in a spot where sparks and molten metal won’t fall on them. They should also be kept free of grease and oil.

Avoid welding on steel or other metals that conduct electricity. But if you must, be sure you are standing on an insulating mat to prevent electric shock. If the area you are welding in is wet or damp or you are perspiring heavily, you should wear rubber gloves under the welding gloves to decrease the chance of being shocked.

Metal should always be thoroughly cleaned with a wire brush before welding. When chipping slag or wire brushing the finished bead, be sure to protect your eyes and body from flying debris. Unused electrodes and electrode stubs should never be left on the floor. Always handle hot metal with metal tongs or pliers.

When cooling hot metal in water it should be done carefully to prevent being burned from the escaping steam. Any metal left to cool should be carefully marked “HOT” with a soapstone. When you have finished working for the day, electrodes should be removed from the holder. The holder should be placed where no one can accidentally come in contact with it and the welder should be disconnected from its power source.

Keep Your Home Safe During Holiday Travel Time

Whether you’re planning a Caribbean vacation getaway, or a trip to visit relatives this holiday season, keep in mind that an empty house is a tempting target for a burglar. But with a little common sense and some careful planning, you can reduce the possibility that your home will be broken into while you’re gone.

* Prepare your first line of defense – Use sturdy locks on all doors and windows and secure before you leave. Repair any broken windows or locks. Never operate under the assumption that a burglar won’t find the one that’s faulty.

* Enlist the help of a trusted neighbor – Tell one neighbor your itinerary and your estimated time of arrival and return. That person should have a key to your front door to periodically check on the house, and a telephone number where you can be reached in an emergency.

* Don’t broadcast your plans – Especially in the era of social media, never post your travel plans on Facebook or Twitter. According to a recent article in the New York Times, tech-savvy thieves are taking advantage of the detailed information provided by unsuspecting social media users.

* Never let the house appear empty from the street – Stop your newspaper delivery, and have your neighbor pick up your mail and any packages left on the front porch. Arrange for someone to mow the lawn, rake leaves and clean the yard if you’ll be away for an extended period. Ask your neighbor to place garbage cans at the curb on normal pickup days and put them back after the garbage pickup. If you leave your car at home, park it where you normally would. However, be sure your neighbor moves it occasionally so that it appears the car is being driven. If you’re driving your car, have your neighbor periodically park in your driveway or in front of your house.

* Your home shouldn’t seem empty on the inside either – Plug in timers to turn lights and even a television on and off at appropriate times. Turn the ringer on your telephone down. If a burglar is around, and hears a call that goes unanswered, they’ll know you’re away. Don’t leave a message on your answering machine notifying everyone you’re on vacation. Leave your blinds, shades and curtains in a normal position. Don’t close them unless you would normally do so while at home.

* Don’t give thieves alternate ways to enter your home – Lock garage doors and windows. You should also secure storage sheds, attic entrances and yard gates.

* Don’t leave valuables in plain sight – Consider locking valuables in a bank safety deposit box. If you do leave valuables at home, make sure they are engraved. This simple precaution will allow stolen property to be easily identified and returned to you if recovered later.

Keeping Up with the Jones and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Navigating the winding straits of various state workers’ compensation systems can be difficult to do for companies traversing state lines, but what if the company employs people at sea?  If your business employs dockworkers or seamen of any sort, there are two acts you should be aware of.

The Jones Act (1920) – The Jones Act is a set of cabotage, or “admiralty” laws.  Cabotage defines who has the right to engage in air, rail, truck or waterborne transportation in a country and its coastal waters.  The Jones Act focuses on the latter.

Modeled in part after the Federal Employers Liability Act, which provides benefits to rail workers, the Jones Act governs the liability of vessel operators and marine employers for the work-related injury or death of an employee.  The Jones act provides heightened legal protections to seamen because of their exposure to the perils of the sea but does not define the term “seamen.”  Federal court decisions have narrowed the definition to exclude land-based workers, though.  Workers on offshore oil rigs, ships, barges, riverboat casinos, tug boats, shrimp boats, fishing boats, trawlers, tankers, crew boats, ferries and water taxis are among those who are eligible for Jones Act relief if injured. 

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (1927), a companion of sorts to the Jones Act, provides scheduled pay for injury or death, to a broad range of land-based maritime workers, excluding those covered under The Jones Act.  Usually, employees who load or unload vessels, build or repair ships, and stevedores are among those eligible for LHWCA status.  Unlike The Jones Act, which is not administered by a federal or state agency, The Department of Labor administers LHWCA.

Although differentiating among employees eligible for consideration under the two acts seems simple, much litigation has ensued over the years since the two acts came into being, because “the myriad circumstances in which men go upon the water confront courts not with discrete classes of maritime employees, but rather with a spectrum ranging from the blue-water seamen to the land-based longshoreman.” Brown v. ITT Rayonier, Inc., 497 F.2d 234, 236 (CA5 1974)

Broad P & I (Protection and Indemnity) policies, Maritime Employers Liability and Maritime Workers’ Compensation products are available to cover Jones Act or LHWCA liability.  Some products combine coverage for state workers’ compensation acts and Jones Act or LHWCA exposures.  There are also policies available for employers with no “known” Jones Act exposure.  

Although coverage for the liability imposed by employers under these acts may be more expensive than state workers’ compensation coverage, there may be penalties for non-compliance.  LHWCA, for example, imposes a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to a year.  Talk to your agent to discuss your exposures and to see what options are available.

Important ResponseTips after an Accident

Very few people are prepared to face a traffic accident; however, many people will be involved in one at some point during their lives. While some are minor, others are severe and require appropriate action. Even the most careful drivers may experience an accident due to the poor driving skills of others. The best way to be prepared is to know how to respond at the scene. People who know what to do can save lives. In addition to this, preparedness makes the claims process simpler. If an accident happens, take the following steps:

– Stop the car immediately, and check to see if anyone involved is injured. Do not move any injured individuals.

– Call the highway patrol or police immediately. Be sure to tell them how many people are involved, how many people are hurt and what types of injuries have been noted. The police will then notify an emergency response team.

– Find a blanket, sweater or anything available to cover injured people with. It is very important to try to keep them warm.

– Set up flares or other bright objects around the scene of the accident. This is especially important at night, and the objects will help other motorists steer clear of the scene.

– When an involved vehicle is parked in the middle of the road, pull it to the shoulder. If possible, it is important to avoid congesting the road.

– Ask the responding law enforcement officer where to obtain a police report copy. As a rule, it is beneficial to have one before submitting an insurance claim.

– If necessary, call a towing company to pick up the damaged vehicle. Avoid giving permission for repair work. The insurance adjuster will need to see the vehicle and assess it prior to the repair process.

When the accident occurs, it is important to obtain some information from the other drivers and passengers involved in the accident. If they are upset, try to calm them down. Write down the following bits of information:

– Names and addresses of every driver or passenger involved.
– Names and addresses of all witnesses at the scene.
– The make and model of every car involved.
– Insurance identification information for each party.
– License plate numbers of each car involved.
– Drivers license numbers of each individual.

Not all other parties may be willing to cooperate. If they do not have insurance, they may try to offer a settlement at the scene of the accident. They may also prefer not to involve the police or highway patrol. Since there are many things that could go wrong in such a scenario, always notify law enforcement immediately. Be sure to write down the law enforcement officer’s badge number and name. If any emergency personnel are involved, write down their names. After an accident, always contact a personal insurance agent.

In some cases, people hit an unattended vehicle. It may be impossible to find the owner or wait for that individual to return. In such a case, the person who hit the vehicle should leave a note with their name, address and phone number. Write down the details of the accident, and call an insurance agent immediately. 

Understanding Enterprise Risk Management as an Approach to Manage and Capitalize on Risks

The concept of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) has received increased attention in recent years as a fundamental shift in the way companies approach risk.  ERM is an all-encompassing approach to risk management and this can often make implementing ERM seem overwhelming.   To make the process more palatable, the Commission of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO), a voluntary private-sector financial reporting organization, has released the first ERM framework.

When compared to the traditional approach of addressing risks associated with accidental losses, ERM has a holistic approach that covers both insurable and traditionally non-insurable risks including financial, operations, strategic and other risks.  The process applies to managing risk and also capitalizing on it for growth.  Proponents say that ERM may improve capital efficiencies in that it provides an objective measure for allocating resources. 

Sometimes called business risk management or strategic risk management, this systematic approach is attractive in that it ensures uniform risk identification and treatment throughout an organization.   ERM is inherently collaborative and requires a risk team including accounting, marketing, research and development, treasury and operations management. 

Released in September 2004, COSO’s Enterprise Risk Management – Integrated Framework describes the essential components, principals and concepts of ERM for organizations of all sizes.  It establishes a uniform language for identifying risks, avoiding pitfalls and seizing opportunities for growing shareholder value. 

Eight interrelated components outlined in the Framework are:

– Internal Environment – Establishes the entity’s risk culture by establishing a philosophy regarding risk management.

– Objective Setting – Involves setting objectives and forming a risk strategy.  This step forms the risk appetite of an organization, how much risk management and the board members are willing to accept.  Aligned with risk appetite is risk tolerance, the acceptable level of variation around objectives.

– Event Identification – Differentiates risks and opportunities by identifying events, occurring internally and externally, that may have a negative impact and those that may have a positive impact.

– Risk Assessment – Assesses the likelihood and impact that potential events could have on objectives.  Involves qualitative and quantitative risk assessment methodologies. 

– Risk Response – Identifies and evaluates possible responses to risk.

– Control Activities – Lays out policies and procedures at all organizational levels and in all functions, which help ensure that risk responses are carried out.

– Information and Communication – A form and timeframe to broadly communicate pertinent information enabling the risk management team to fulfill their responsibilities.

– Monitoring – Ongoing monitoring activities as well as specific planned evaluations determine the effectiveness of an organization’s ERM.

The Framework also defines the roles and responsibilities of key ERM team members including management, board of directors, risk offices and internal auditors.  For more information about the Framework and to order print or electronic copies, visit www.coso.org.

Insurance Implications For Green Construction

One of the most popular types of construction in the United States is green construction. This eco-friendly technique gained popularity because of rising energy costs, global climate change and the United States’ dependence on foreign energy providers. People all over the country are taking steps to reduce the carbon footprints their homes and business spaces leave. However, this type of construction has very important insurance implications, which all consumers should be aware of.

Buildings that are considered green have met several requirements for LEED, which is a certification formally known as Leadership in Energy and Development. LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in the late 1990s. It was designed to help building owners identify and use construction, maintenance, operations and measurable designs that are better for the environment. In comparison with standard structures, green buildings use water and energy more efficiently. They also have healthier indoor environments and produce less carbon dioxide.

Several municipalities and states have adopted special building codes that require green construction elements. Stricter water efficiency standards have been enacted in California for new residential structures. Tighter energy use standards are under consideration in New York City. Green building requirements have had a major impact on construction costs, which vary by location. Although green construction demands special procedures and materials, contractors who are up to speed with these requirements are hard to find. This means that the cost of complying with such requirements may be considerably higher than the cost of using standard methods and materials. This cost issue will also affect insurance coverage.

These factors influence insurance claims:

– What is defined as a major renovation by the code, and what percentage of the building’s area is affected.

– Whether qualified contractors are available in the area.

– Whether green building codes apply to renovations or only new construction projects.

– How new materials will work with existing components, and whether integrating them will increase the cost and time required for rebuilding.

– How the use of green materials will affect the appearance of the building.

– Delays for obtaining special materials and contractors.

– The likelihood of longer wait times for special contractors after a catastrophe happens.

– The likelihood of waiting for special building inspections and approvals after a catastrophe happens.

– How the building code applies if a natural disaster occurs.

– What standards property owners must meet following a widespread disaster.

Within the next few years, experts predict that the market for non-residential green construction will grow substantially. This means that insurance companies and property owners will have to address serious questions, and the best time to get answers is before losses occur. Commercial and standard property insurance policies offer very little coverage for ordinance or law losses. These are extra expenses incurred to comply with special requirements. However, additional coverage is available. People who own properties in areas where green building codes exist should discuss these options with an agent.

On-line Insurance as Opposed to an Insurance Agency: What’s the Difference?

Just as one may use a CPA to prepare their income taxes or an attorney to help them with their estate planning, many choose to use an insurance agency to write their insurance policies. This choice is mainly made because a person feels they need professional advice during the process. Of course, everyone will have different needs and circumstances surrounding their purchase, and this is why an insurance professional’s advice can be an invaluable asset.

If you’re debating buying insurance on-line versus through insurance agency, then you should ask yourself a couple of questions:

* Do I know for certain what specific coverage(s) I need?
* Do I know all the questions I should be asking before making an insurance purchase?
* Will the on-line purchase truly result in both time and money savings?
* Can I obtain all my insurance policies through a single on-line insurance provider?
* Can I call the on-line insurance provider and receive insurance advice when needed?
* Is the personal information I’ll be providing kept secure?

You want to know exactly what coverage you need and that the insurance you’re purchasing meets those needs adequately. Insurance can vary greatly from state to state, meaning that it’s equally important for your insurance source to be knowledgeable. You certainly don’t want to purchase an insurance policy and discover down the road that it doesn’t protect you during a claim. Making an insurance purchase with an on-line company that fails to connect professional insurance advice to your personal insurance needs can leave you at risk of being without the coverage you need. You shouldn’t be the only one taking time to ask questions. The on-line insurance company must ask you questions in order to ensure they’re recommending the appropriate coverage(s).

One of the best ways to determine if you’re really saving money by purchasing your insurance on-line is to get a quote of your policy on-line. Do keep in mind that most on-line companies don’t offer multi-policy discounts, such as for home and auto. This is because most offer homeowner’s insurance through a different company, if at all. On the other hand, an insurance agency typically allows you to select coverage from several different insurance companies and can help you determine which company will offer you the most favorable rates for your particular risk type. Another consideration is that insurance agencies typically have a much more stringent screening process in relation to these insurance companies.

Unlike insurance agencies, many on-line companies will either not have the services that you need readily available or have a system that you must sign into and learn to navigate before being able to obtain what you need. One such example would be obtaining insurance documents, such as a certificate of insurance. Let’s say you’re using your vehicle to take your child and some of his/her classmates on a field trip. You learn the day of the trip that you must have evidence of your insurance before going. If you use an insurance agency, the documented can be faxed or emailed to the school or your smart phone with a quick and simple call. A second example would be how an insurance agency can help you meet some very challenging needs associated with needing a hard to place insurance policy. Despite the trend for on-line shopping, insurance agencies continue to thrive because of the solid reputations they build from customer satisfaction.

Insurance is often required – auto insurance by your employer, homeowner’s insurance by your mortgage lender, or even coverage(s) an owner of a space you’re trying to rent for a professional or personal function may require of you. Such requirements can often be like trying to understand the tax code. If you use an insurance agency, then you can email or fax any insurance requirements to your insurance agent for quick and efficient resolution.

Carefully consider how you go about purchasing your insurance. Surprises are the last things you want when it comes to the vital protection of insurance. If you have any uncertainty about what you’re really getting with on-line insurance, then you might want to rethink your decision. If you’d like to avoid the one-size-fits-all approach of on-line insurance and receive the knowledge and expertise of an insurance agent, then you may consider opting for a professional, independent agent to prepare your insurance policy.

Talking on the Phone While Driving Could Cost More Than You Realize

Americans can’t be parted from their cell phones, especially when they are driving.  A recent survey conducted by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that approximately 10 percent of drivers on the road are talking on their cell phones when behind the wheel.  This is a 25 percent increase from 2004’s levels.  Sixty percent of those drivers are using handheld phones, up from 50% last year.  Clearly the cell phone has gone from emergency aid to chic accessory.

Even though talking on the cell phone while driving may be de rigueur for the fashion forward, many state governments do not feel the same way.  Although there is no federal law limiting cell phone use while driving, many states have passed their own legislation.  For example, some states have banned the use of handheld devices while driving, but allow the use of hands-free devices.  Other states have chosen to put restrictions on driver classifications, such as bus drivers or under 30 drivers, rather than create a general ban on cell phone use.

The frenzy surrounding cell phone use while driving stems from studies which indicate that drivers who talk on the phone are more likely to cause accidents.  One recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that both handheld and hands-free phones increased the risk of a crash.  The test group included 456 participants who used a cell phone and were treated in emergency rooms for injuries suffered in crashes from April 2002 to July 2004.  By using phone records and interviews, the Institute calculated the increased risk of a crash by comparing phone use during the 10 minutes prior to a participant’s crash, along with their phone use during the previous week.

The increased risk stems from a situation that was dubbed “inattention blindness,” by researchers David Strayer, Frank Drews and William Johnston in a 2003 study conducted at the University of Utah.  They discovered that talking on cell phones while driving diverts the driver’s attention from their visual environment, making them unable to recognize objects encountered in their visual field.  One would think that using a hands-free phone would be less distracting, thus not increasing the risk of inattention blindness as much as using a hand-held phone.  But, the researches found that either phone type increases the risk of accident.  Why?  Well, current hands-free phones aren’t really hands-free.  Only cell phones that are fully voice activated may be less likely to increase the risk of inattention blindness.  However, further studies will need to be conducted to determine if that is true.

Meanwhile, when you are using your cell phone while operating your car, keep this in mind.  In October 2004, a Virginia jury ordered Jane Wagner, a former lawyer, who was accused of driving and talking on her cell phone when she struck and killed a teenager, to pay the victim’s family $2 million.  Wagner served one year in jail after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.  Upon conviction, she also forfeited her license to practice law.

Why Wealthy Families Need More Insurance

Although many people assume America’s wealthiest families have nothing to worry about, they do have to worry about being targets of significant liability lawsuits. The high unemployment rates and unsteady economy have contributed greatly to these realistic fears. Unfortunately, many wealthy families do not have ample protection against such lawsuits. They also underestimate the cost of potential damages and how affordable protection is in comparison with those damages.

A recent study performed by ACE Private Risk Services found that half of the people interviewed thought the worst lawsuit they could possibly face would be less than $5 million. However, the grim reality is that lawsuit awards for serious injuries are often much higher than that amount. The individuals interviewed in the study belonged to households with more than $5 million in assets. ACE’s study sought to uncover the threat perceptions of these wealthy families. With the nation’s discourse over wealth disparity, the findings show that rich families feel they are increasingly targeted for lawsuits. Approximately 80 percent of wealthy individuals feel their money puts them at a higher risk. More than 65 percent of the individuals interviewed felt that the nation’s view of the wealthy has become more negative since 2008. In addition to this, almost 40 percent feel they are more likely to face lawsuits during the next several years.

Since some wealthy families underestimate all types of liabilities, they are more likely to carry insufficient insurance policies. This is true with homeowners coverage, auto insurance and several other types of coverage. More than 40 percent of the survey participants reported carrying under $5 million in umbrella liability coverage. In addition to this, more than 20 percent said they did not have an umbrella policy at all. For those who are not familiar with this type of insurance, it is a crucial component of personal coverage. In the event an incident consumes the maximum amount allowed by an individual policy, the umbrella policy provides extra coverage. How much additional coverage it provides depends on what type of policy is purchased. Wealthier individuals should have umbrella policies that are significant enough to protect their assets. Keep in mind that auto or homeowners policies rarely exceed $500,000 alone. There are several companies specializing in umbrella policies for wealthy families whose net worth is beyond $1 million. These companies offer policies covering between $1 million and $100 million. Premiums for such policies are higher than average, but choosing a larger deductible brings lower premium amounts.

Selecting a plan with a higher deductible and paying for small losses is a responsible choice. Wealthy families must understand where their lawsuit risks are coming from. The survey shows that more than 50 percent of these families have employees. Gardeners, housekeepers and nannies are all staff members who could become disgruntled enough to file a lawsuit. In many cases, the allegations may not even be true. Sexual harassment, wrongful employment practices, wrongful termination and discrimination are common allegations in such lawsuits. Wealthy individuals who serve as trustees of charitable organizations must also consider the organization’s directors and officers coverage, which may not be significant enough for individual protection. Auto accidents, dog bites, character defamation and slander are also common lawsuit sources. The risks are evolving constantly, and it is crucial to be properly prepared. To determine if individual coverage needs changes or additions, discuss these options with an agent today.

Environmentally Friendly Insurance for Small Business

If you’ve ever considered owning a small business, or are considering owning one, you’ve probably heard all the usual advice.  Make sure you have enough capital.  Only let family run the cash register.  Don’t take in a partner without an ironclad contract.   Location, location, location.

What you may not have heard is this one: Be careful you don’t get nailed with hazardous waste remediation and lose your shirt.

How could that happen?  You’re not opening a nuclear reactor, just an ice cream shop.

Aha!  What if the site you select for your ice cream shop ends up being in a district where the water is found to contain too many parts per million of some noxious substance or another and you have to close down or move?  Or worse, be permitted to stay, but be required by local government to hang a sign at the order window telling customers they drink your sodas at their own risk?  It has happened to a shop in the town of Finksburg, Maryland. Fortunately, the local population isn’t too concerned about that stuff in the water, and the owner didn’t have to close up shop, risking his investment and his livelihood.  But he without a doubt lost business. 

That was a mild case of the ‘environmental flu.’  Others can be much worse.

Fortunately, there is insurance for that sort of thing, and having it might even help you get financing for your new venture. Originally meant for big business, ones that might easily buy a 40-acre site that was a pharmaceutical waste dump in the 1950s and is now in need of expensive remediation, secured creditor environmental insurance now comes in sizes to fit most businesses, large and small.

These policies protect both the business owner and the business owner’s lender in the event that contamination of the business site is found and must be cleaned up.  The insurance takes care of the cost of remediation, or the loan if the owner must default because of the cost of remediation.  And it also covers liability claims, including bodily injury.  Note:  These policies cover only claims based in environmental laws in effect at the time the policy was written, not claims based on later regulation and legislation.

In effect, secured creditor environmental insurance acts much like title insurance. 

Title insurance includes an investigation of the real estate to make certain all previous deed transfers, survey and so on were correct.  If the investigation failed to find something that later becomes a problem, the title insurance takes care of it. 

Secured creditor environmental insurance policies also require an investigation into the prior uses of the land.  If a problem is later discovered, but the investigation was conducted with due diligence, then the insurance pays for the cleanup. In all cases, the policies won’t pay off if information that results in claims has been withheld.

Unlike title insurance, secured creditor environmental insurance companies also want to know what the intended future use of the site will be. 

You want to open an ice cream store?  You’d probably have no problem.  The Finksburg case is actually unusual.

Dry cleaner?  Sure, although your deductible will be fairly high, in the $1,750 range. Note, too, that managers of strip malls, where most dry cleaners are located, are beginning to require dry cleaning shop owners to have some sort of pollution liability insurance.  Cleaning up a spill at a dry cleaning store costs about $50,000 on average; the deductible will be somewhere around $10,000.

Nuclear reactor?  Get real.

Start a Safety Committee to Increase the Effectiveness of Your Safety Program

If employees don’t feel involved and represented in their company’s safety program, it is unlikely the program will be successful.  A workplace safety committee is a tool that, if created and conducted properly, can increase the effectiveness of a safety program by:

  • Providing structure and assigning responsibility for carrying out a workplace safety program;
  • Enhancing a cooperative attitude and bringing together strong interaction among various areas of an organization;
  • Serving as a communication vehicle for employees to voice safety concerns;
  • Serving as a tool for employers to promote safety to employees; and
  • Spreading the responsibility of the safety program among employees.

A safety committee will only be successful, however, if it is carefully created with structure and support.  As with any safety initiative, it is imperative that management be visibly and actively involved.  Members should serve on the committee and attend regular meetings.   Other committee members should be chosen for their enthusiasm, potential expertise and communication skills.  The committee should include representatives from all the various departments but not become so large that it becomes cumbersome and ineffective.

To ensure that the committee doesn’t become a place for employees just to voice complaints, the committee’s goals should be clear from the start.  Its primary role is always to promote and ensure the success of a company’s safety program.  

The specific responsibilities of the safety committee may include:

  • Develop strategic safety goals and annual action items;
  • Participate in development, monitoring and updating of safety program and possible safety incentives;
  • Hold monthly safety meetings;
  • Hold regular workplace safety inspections and help identify workplace hazards;
  • Participate in accident/incident investigations;
  • Ensure maintenance of injury and work hazard records;
  • Perform review of illness and injury records;
  • Organize regular safety training programs;
  • Consult with outside experts when necessary;
  • Address employee complaints and suggestions regarding safety issues;
  • Make safety recommendations to management; and
  • Communicate with employees and management about safety issues and goals.

Every group needs a leader and a safety committee is no exception.  A workplace safety coordinator should be assigned to head the group.  For many companies this will not be a separate position but rather an added role to an individual’s existing position.  The coordinator is responsible for leading the committee, scheduling and heading safety meetings, serving as a point-of-contact with outside agencies and retaining safety records and documents.  Safety meetings should be well documented and the records should be retained for at least a couple years.   Many safety committees prepare an annual report to overview the safety trends within the organization, advertise their results, and identify outstanding safety issues. 

For companies beginning a new safety committee, the following first meeting agenda is a good starting point:

  • Establish the role and purpose of the committee;
  • Discuss the commitment required from each member;
  • Develop an agenda for what the committee hopes to achieve, both long and short term;
  • Assign action items to the members of the committee; and

Take meeting notes and post the minutes as well as committee goals and action items.

Five Tips to Keep Your Most Precious Cargo Safe on a Summer Road Trip

As the warmer summer months arrive, many families blow the dust off their suitcases and hit the road for a much-needed vacation. Of course, you should go through the normal checklist for your vehicle, such as checking your oil levels and air in your tires. But, for those traveling with babies and children, there may be some additional precautions to take before heading out on vacation.

Most parents are accustomed to the usual disturbances and distractions caused by children crying, spilling snacks, and fighting with their siblings in the backseat. Such incidents may be unavoidable, especially during lengthy road trips that test a child’s ability to sit still. However, there are a few tips to help you keep your focus on the road and ensure your family safely arrives at the destination. Add the following to your pre-takeoff checklist:

1. Check all child seats in the vehicle.

Even if you feel certain that your child’s safety or booster seat has been properly installed, double check it. You might have unknowingly made a mistake during the installation or after quickly moving it from one vehicle to another. According to the National Safety Belt Coalition, incorrectly installed car seats and misuse are responsible for the serious injuries and deaths of children in car accidents everyday. You may even consider taking your vehicle to an expert that can show you the correct way to use and install a booster or child safety seat. You can find a listing of certified child passenger safety technicians in your area at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website.

2. Invest in a child safety mirror.

Such mirrors have become popular with parents that find themselves frequently traveling with their children. Most of these special mirrors are inexpensive. They are also easy to install; you just attach it to your rear view mirror. Now, you can occasionally see what your children are doing in the backseat without actually turning around and taking your eyes off the road. Your children will be less likely to get into mischief when they see that your mirror is essentially like having eyes in the back of your head.

For smaller children and infants in rear-facing car seats, you can use an infant mirror that attaches to the back seat’s headrest or rear window. It will be positioned so that you can see the baby when you look into your rear view mirror. Plus, your baby may be less fussy along the trip if he’s preoccupied with the entertainment of his/her own reflection.

3. Get some road trip entertainment for the kids.

Any parent knows that a bored child is typically much more likely to act up and get into trouble. This is a distraction that can be alleviated by packing your kids some new, fun activities to keep them entertained and out of trouble. Think about what your child may enjoy – books, games, puzzles, coloring books, a travel diary, movies, video games, and so forth. If your vehicle doesn’t have a DVD player, you may consider purchasing a portable one.

4. Give the kids frequent breaks.

Whether it be at a restaurant, rest stop, park, or even a local attraction, try to stop every two or three hours for a break. Pit stops may extend your overall travel time, but letting your kids burn off some energy and stretch their legs will be well worth it during long road trips.

5. Reassess your insurance needs and coverage.

About two weeks before your travel date, assess your auto insurance policy to make sure it’s congruent with your needs and offers sufficient financial protection. Most parents, especially new ones, don’t think about reviewing their auto insurance plan before they head out on vacation with a child in the backseat. However, raising a child is a huge financial responsibility that could prompt an increase to property damage or liability coverage.

6 Helpful Tips for Preventing Theft & Fraud in the Workplace

Sharing confidential company information, stealing equipment and manipulating data are all serious offenses in the workplace. Employee fraud and theft rates have increased in the past decade. These crimes now equal an average of five percent of a company’s annual revenue. The following tips help prevent fraud and theft in the workplace.

1. Check references thoroughly. Many employers avoid checking candidates’ references. They often make the mistake of assuming that a candidate would not put a reference on the list if that contact would not give a glowing report. However, many candidates provide erroneous phone numbers for personal references. In addition to this, previous employers may reveal important information about that worker’s history and tendency for fraud or theft.

2. Conduct pre-employment background checks. This is an important step for any employer to take. However, it is especially important for employers hiring people who will handle cash or have access to sensitive financial information. Keep in mind that there are only certain pieces of information that can be used in hiring decisions. Since each state’s laws vary regarding the use of criminal history information use, be sure to contact the local EEOC for specific laws and guidelines.

3. Use audits when necessary. Auditing can create suspicion and mistrust among employees, but it may be essential for detecting fraud and theft. When employees know they are being monitored, they are less likely to take such risky steps. Keep in mind that criminals take advantage of weak controls, so audits are a good way to close those gaps. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners offers helpful tips for areas of the business to monitor and how often to audit various areas.

4. Develop a code of conduct. Telling employees not to do certain things will not ensure obedience. However, a written code of conduct establishes guidelines and gives employees a better idea of the company’s principles. After it is written, this document should be signed by all new and existing employees. There are plenty of great free templates available online. Keep in mind that it is important to include policies specifying company data protection. Be sure to go over the code of conduct during orientation sessions for new employees. It is also important to review the code each year. Some items may change. For example, a company may develop connections with new agencies or businesses, and specific conduct codes may be needed to guide employees in dealing with specific companies.

5. Take management seriously. Creating and communicating a business climate is one of the best ways to prevent fraud or theft in the workplace. This also shows employees that these issues are of the utmost importance. The following steps are easy and help keep employers informed:

-Make sure employees know they can speak freely with employers any time to discuss concerns or report violations.
-Reconcile statements regularly to detect fraudulent activity.
-Implement strong internal controls.
-Always trust individual instincts.
-Offer help to employees when they face difficult times or stressful situations.
-Conduct frequent one-on-one reviews with employees.
-Investigate unusual transactions.
-Make employee vacations mandatory.

6. Know what to look for. Research shows that workplace criminals commit crimes because they feel unappreciated, are under pressure or feel that management practices are unfair. They usually feel that they are owed something for these misinterpreted offenses. With that thought in mind, look for the following red flags:

-Unexpected changes in behavior.
-Employees who prefer to work after hours, take work home or be unsupervised.
-Workers who are exclusive or very protective of their work spaces.
-Employees who refuse to take vacations.
-Financial records disappearing frequently.
-Unexplained debts showing up on financial statements.

An employee who appears to be very dedicated to work may be an honest worker, but some individuals who seem this way have their own reasons for their behavior. Many financial violations show up while an employee is on vacation. Workers using a suspicious individual’s work space may discover incriminating evidence. Employees who take work home or want to work after hours may simply want privacy to perform their dishonest deeds. Diligence and careful monitoring are the keys to preventing workplace fraud and theft.

Facebook Scammers Getting Bolder

Other times, careless users have left too much personal information on line, including birthdays, addresses, and other information that can be leveraged into identity theft.

More recently, though, another variation on the scam has come to light: Criminals have been trolling Facebook accounts, looking for members who post a lot of details about their own families. They will then locate and contact a vulnerable family member – often a grandmother – and pretend to be a grandchild travelling abroad.

The scammers pretend to be the grandchild, and breathlessly explain to the unsuspecting senior that they’re in jail in Spain, for example, after hitting a telephone pole – and they need her to wire them money to get let out of jail.

In some cases, the criminals don’t just stop with the first couple of thousand dollars. They will contact grandma again, telling her the judge is making her grandson pay for damages to a light pole he hit. Then a deductible to an insurance company. They will call grandma again, saying the police won’t let him leave the country until he clears accounts and hit grandma for a couple more grand.

They keep it up until grandma catches on to the scam or runs out of money – and meanwhile, her grandson is safe at home, unaware that his Facebook information is being used by criminals to victimize his family.

How they do it

To pull off this scam, criminals don’t need to steal birthdays or password information directly. Instead, they’ll go through Facebook accounts, mapping a picture of the victim’s family. They’ll gather so much information about family details and contacts that they can quickly overcome any skepticism about the scammer’s identity.


Criminals will also scan Facebook for information to use against members more directly: They will look for families announcing vacation plans on Facebook, for example, and then break into the house when you’re away. Police have broken up multiple burglary rings in several states, in which thieves used information gleaned via Facebook to target homes where they knew the occupants would be away.

Awareness Is Still A Factor

According to a recent survey from the Javelin Group, a large number of social media users posted information on line on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblrs, and other social media sites that criminals could possibly leverage against them:

  • 68 percent of social media users publicly shared their birthday.
  • 63 percent shared the name of their high school.
  • 18 percent shared their phone number.
  • 12 percent shared their pet’s name.

All this is information that criminals could use to bluff their way to access to a bank account – or even to a home, especially where family members are very young, elderly, naïve or easily confused. 

The Psychology of Safety and The Gen Y Worker

Pop psychologists have been talking about the Generation Gap since the 1960s when the term first made its appearance in the vernacular.  As any Baby Boomer can tell you, the phrase developed because at no time in the history of this country were the differences between two generations as significant as they were then.

Well, what goes around comes around.  The generation that made history by rebelling against the establishment now finds themselves on the other side of the fence.  Their children, Generation Y, are now the ones pushing the envelope.  But instead of questioning social policy, Gen Y is redefining communication.  They were the first to grow up with the Internet, instant messaging and cellular phones, and reaching them means using a multi-media approach, whether it’s in the classroom or on the job site.

They are also the first generation to grow up in a society that puts emphasis on worker safety.  Gen Y was raised in the age of OSHA.  They have never experienced working in a pre-OSHA environment, and they take jobsite safety for granted.  And although they might assume safety is a given, it’s this assumption that makes them more receptive to being trained to work safely than their older colleagues.

If you want Gen Y to buy into your safety training, it needs to deal with the immediate – not the long term.  Remember, this is the generation that instantly communicates; they are not about the future, but are all about now.  If safety training doesn’t show them how it affects them in the present, it won’t have any impact.

This is also a generation intensely concerned with the way they look.  The ripped jeans and ragged tee shirts of their parents have been replaced with chic designer labels.  When it comes to Personal Protective Equipment, Gen Y tends to regard style as much, if not more than, the equipment’s safety features.  In a competition between looking cool in the short-term versus protecting themselves from long-term physical harm, looking cool will win every time.  Manufacturers of Personal Protective Equipment are responding with gear that is as much an accessory to work clothes, as it is protective.  Equipment is being designed in bright colors with popular patterns. The emphasis is on making Gen Y workers compliant with requirements for wearing protective gear because it accommodates their sense of style.

OSHA, too, recognizes the need to appeal to this new generation of worker in a fresh way.  Recognizing that the youngest members of the work force face a higher risk of occupational injury because of their limited job knowledge, training and skills, the agency provides employers with brochures, posters and other educational materials that appeal directly to Gen Y.

OSHA has also developed a Web page, www.osha.gov/SLTC/teenworkers, designed to provide safety information to young workers, employers, parents and educators.  In addition, they convened the Federal Network for Young Worker Safety and Health, a group of 12 federal agencies whose goal is to keep Gen Y workers safe and healthy on the job.  Agencies participating in this network include NIOSH, EPA and the Department of Education.