Establishing Gun-Free Workplaces: What Are Employers’ Rights

In an average week in U.S. workplaces, one employee is killed and at least 25 are seriously injured in violent assaults by current or former co-workers, according to Department of Labor data.  Most of those attacks involve guns.  To cut down on the risk of gun violence in workplaces, many employers have instituted policies banning anyone-whether employee or visitor-from carrying a concealed weapon on the property or premises.  However, in some instances such rules may not be enforceable.  

Less than a generation ago, most states issued few permits for individuals to carry concealed guns.  Today, the situation is quite different.  In 34 states there are now laws that require officials to issue a concealed carry permit (CCP) to anyone who meets certain objective licensing criteria.  Most of these laws mandate issuance of a CCP to any adult who has not been convicted of a felony; has no history of drug or alcohol abuse and/or mental illness; has not committed any violent misdemeanor within the last three to five years; and, in most states, has completed a firearms training course. 

The rationale for these laws is that Americans have the right, under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to bear arms to defend themselves. That right is meaningless, according to CCP supporters, if a person is prevented from having a gun should self-defense be needed.  Many CCP supporters believe this right should extend to workplaces, employers’ premises, and private property in general.

While people in most states now have the right to carry concealed guns, employers have a conflicting desire to control activities by employees or the public on the company’s private property. 

As of January 2005, employers in all states with CCP laws are permitted to maintain rules or policies that prohibit employees from carrying concealed weapons on the job.

Rules prohibiting guns in the workplace have been upheld by the courts, but there has been controversy whether the rules prohibit possession of guns in the employer’s parking lot.  In a highly publicized case several years ago, America Online terminated three employees who were recorded by a security camera transferring guns from their cars which were parked in the company’s parking lot at its call center in Ogden, Utah.  The employees were off work and planned to go target shooting.  AOL fired them for violating a violence prevention policy that banned guns.

The fired workers sued, saying AOL’s policy violated their right to bear arms.  But the Utah Supreme Court in July 2004 sided with AOL and said employers have the right to set policies banning guns in the workplace and that the right extends to the employer’s parking lot.

In some states, there has been pressure on legislatures to make laws allowing employees with CCP’s to keep their weapons in their vehicles while they’re at work. 

Banning guns on private property carried by non-employees, that is, by visitors, clients, customers, etc., can be quite problematic in states with strong concealed carry laws.  Employers’ right to prohibit employees from carrying concealed guns at work is based on the employers’ authority to manage the workplace.  But with people who are not employees, the employer can’t override the laws, which in most states permit people with CCP’s to be armed anywhere, except where concealed guns are specifically excluded by statute. 

Whatever rules one makes about concealed weapons may bring controversy, since there are people who feel strongly on both sides of this issue.

Insure Your New Boat with Proper Coverage

Before you go out and purchase that new boat you have been dreaming about all winter, consider the importance of also purchasing the proper watercraft coverage that you will need for your new toy.

Many people mistakenly believe that their boat will be covered under either their personal auto policy (PAP) or  homeowner’s policy. Auto policies do not provide liability coverage or coverage for damage on boats. Homeowner’s policies may cover only boats that have low value or are low-powered. So before going out and purchasing a boat, contact us to discuss the proper watercraft coverage that you will need.

Here are some considerations to make when it comes to figuring out if you will need separate watercraft coverage for your boat. These types of boats will require a separate insurance policy:

  • Any boat valued over $1,500
  • A sailboat that is over 26 feet long
  • Powerboats that have motors exceeding 25 horsepower

Insurance companies will often deny coverage for particular types of watercraft. These types of watercraft may be denied coverage:

  • Watercraft such as jet skis or wave runners, due to the high number of accidents with them.
  • Houseboats, homemade or kit boats, competition bass boats and speedboats.
  • Boats that are over 15 to 20 years of age due to a higher loss frequency (Note: It is also wise to order a marine survey or inspection of an older boat before purchasing, which can point out deficiencies in the boat that could cause you to reconsider the purchase or renegotiate the price).

Finally, when it comes to purchasing the proper watercraft coverage needed for your new boat, also consider purchasing a personal umbrella policy. This policy would be in addition to a watercraft policy and is especially beneficial if you are going to purchase a speedboat, one designed for skiing or any other type of craft that has a higher potential for loss of life or damage. Umbrella policies are relatively inexpensive and will provide additional coverage above the liability coverage found in a watercraft policy.

If you purchase a personal umbrella policy, use the same insurance company that provides your homeowner’s policy or personal auto policy.

Don’t Wait until a Fire Ignites on Your Construction Site to Start Fighting Fire

The wildfires experienced by Californians over the recent years are just one of the many examples we see when it comes to just how threatening and damaging fire can be. Since job site fires pose a constant threat to construction projects, contractors should prepare for a potential fire by periodically confirming that their risk management plans adequately address the issue.

Don’t wait until you actually have a fire on-site to start your fight against fire. The following tips have been recommended by the International Marine Underwriters Association to help keep construction sites free from the threat of fire:

1. No smoking – have and enforce a no smoking policy on the construction site.

2. Loss control plan – the written loss control plan should comprehensively address the risks of fire exposure and include specific objectives to be enforced by management on the job site, general safety measures, and a named person to be in charge of on-site safety coordination.

3. Inspections and logs – project managers should do daily on-site inspections of all materials and equipment, the work area, and any other nearby location with potential hazards. A running log should be kept of these daily inspections.

4. Hot works – cutting, brazing, welding, and other hot works operations should have a person designated to observe the working area, as well as areas adjacent to it. The person should maintain a line of sight and watch combustible products, sparks, and slag. The surrounding areas should be inspected for a minimum of 30 minutes after the hot works operation ceases.

5. Portable heating equipment – place all portable heating equipment on non-combustive platforms or flooring. Use recognized standards and/or the manufacturer’s specifications for ensuring the appropriate maintenance, fueling, and clearance.

6. Enclosures – construct temporary enclosures with designated paths for transporting materials. For the best results, only construct the temporary enclosure with non-combustible approved materials and locate it away from overhead exposures.

7. Flammable materials – the labeling and identification requirements of gas and flammable liquid containers should be reviewed carefully before they’re brought on the construction site. Make sure that safe storage areas for flammables have been clearly designated and that the area includes surrounding barriers and signs.

8. Firefighting equipment – keep firefighting equipment on-site and easily available at all times. The project manager should ensure that there is always a reliable water supply available for the equipment to connect to and that the equipment will adapt to local fire department equipment if necessary.

9. Rooftops – roof vents should be adequately cleaned to decrease sources of ignition like lint. Additionally, a minimum of one portable fire extinguisher should be located at-level during rooftop operations. Make sure the extinguisher has sufficient capacity for the fire risk.

Steps Homeowners Can Take to Limit the Effects of Natural Disasters and Expedite Recovery

As the fun and sun of summer arrives, so does the threat of many natural disasters. Happenings like earthquakes are always a threat, but floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and such are more apt to strike in the warmer summer months. There are three very important steps you can take to limit the effect natural disasters have on your life and property and expedite your recovery process.

1. Planning

There are some basics that any natural disaster plan should include:

* Always have several escape routes mapped out. Each family member should know where to meet, who to call for help, and where to call to signal their safety to other family members. Your family safety plan should be posted in a central location and the escape route and emergency contact numbers should be reviewed every six months.

* If possible, store irreplaceable items and documents like birth, marriage, death, and divorce certificates; passports; deeds; social security cards; expensive jewelry; and heirlooms in a safety deposit box during high-risk seasons if you live in an area frequently hit by natural disasters. You may also put video or photo documentation, a listing of serial numbers, appraisals, and receipts for these items in your safety deposit box.

* Scan your photos to your computer. You can store your photos with an online storage service or make a CD to place in your safety deposit box.

* You should have an emergency overnight bag ready to go for every person and pet in your family and always keep a credit card, emergency cash supply, and personal identification with you during high-risk seasons.

As far as disaster-specific planning goes, here are some key points:

Flood planning

Many people live in possible flood areas and don’t realize it. For example, those living in areas that recently had a wildfire and those living downstream from a dam could have problems with flash flooding. Those living in or near a construction area could find their risk of flooding increased due to changes in water flow patterns. You can assess your risk of flooding by contacting your local building authority and your insurance agent.

Since basements aren’t usually covered by typical flood insurance policies, those with a basement need a plan on moving their valuables to upper-levels. Do make sure that you have an escape plan, as discussed above, in place for your family.

Hurricane planning

Most people in areas prone to hurricanes are already on high alert during hurricane season, but do keep in mind that hurricanes and the stormy remnants are often unpredictable. The flood planning from above is applicable to hurricane planning. Additionally, you’ll want to have a supply of nails and plywood ready to go so that you can board-up your home before evacuation.

Remember, if your local authorities issue an evacuation, then you need to heed it.

Wildfire planning

Wildfires can begin unnoticed and spread rapidly with little forewarning. An effective evacuation plan is vital in many cases. If you do have forewarning, then stay tuned to the emergency broadcasts and follow the evacuation directions from local authorities. Remember to take your emergency evacuation bag with you.

If you’re under a warning, but haven’t been advised to evacuate yet, then you might have time to turn off your gas lines and propane tanks, soak your roof and shrubs with water, move flammable furniture to the center of rooms, and move large valuables to the safest location possible.

Tornado planning

Unlike many other disastrous events, leaving your home during a tornado warning is seldom a wise move. Everyone in your family should know where they should go during a tornado warning. While a basement is ideal, not everyone has one. You can use a central room; preferably one that doesn’t have windows or overhead objects. Be sure your emergency kit and phone numbers are in your designated room.

Earthquake planning

Follow the directions from tornado planning. You might also want to place an emergency kit in your vehicle and at your place of employment. Check to make sure your child’s school is also well-prepared.

2. Prevention

Aside from living in an area not prone to natural disasters, there isn’t much you can do to avoid them. However, unlike most other natural disasters, wildfires can sometimes be prevented. You can personally prevent fires by being careful when using open flames, maintaining your chimney flue, and not throwing cigarettes outdoors. Of course, wildfires can happen regardless of your personal care with fire.

You can help to prevent flames from impacting your home by creating a defensible space. In fact, some insurers are now inspecting properties for defensible space before issuing or renewing policies. Your insurance agent, local agricultural organizations, and federal agencies like the American Red Cross and FEMA are valuable information sources on creating defensible spaces.

The damage of flooding can also be limited by planning water diversions and landscaping as protective devices.

3. Insurance

Last, but certainly not least, you should make sure your existing insurance is providing adequate protection. For example, your regular homeowner’s policy most likely won’t provide coverage if a boulder falls or rolls into your home since such would be considered an earth movement and need to be covered by earthquake insurance. Another example would be your regular homeowner’s policy not covering damage from a water or sewage system outside your home breaking, or damages from a flash flood, as these would fall under flood insurance. If you obtain flood insurance, keep in mind that the coverage won’t become effective for 30 days and your basement usually still won’t be covered.

Scaffolding Safety


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics falls remain the number one killer of workers in the construction industry and the number two killer of workers in private industry. One of the most likely ways to prove those statistics true is to look at the number of falls from scaffolding. This problem was so prevalent for such a long time, that it prompted OSHA to revise their standards on scaffold safety in the late 1980s.

The standard that OSHA devised has been periodically updated; but it still contains several key provisions:

  • Fall protection or fall arrest systems-Each employee more than 10 feet above a lower level must be protected from falls by guardrails or a fall arrest system. However, employees on single-point and two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds must have both.
  • Guardrail height-The height of the toprail for scaffolds manufactured and placed in service after January 1, 2000 must be between 38 inches and 45 inches.
  • Crossbracing-When the crosspoint of crossbracing is used as a toprail, it must be between 38 inches and 48 inches above the work platform.
  • Midrails- Midrails must be installed approximately halfway between the toprail and the platform surface. When a crosspoint of crossbracing is used as a midrail, it must be between 20 inches and 30 inches above the work platform.
  • Footings-Support scaffold footings must be level and capable of supporting the loaded scaffold. The legs, poles, frames, and uprights must be placed on base plates and mudsills.
  • Platforms-Supported scaffold platforms must be fully planked or decked.
  • Guying ties, and braces-Supported scaffolds with a height-to-base of more than 4:1 have to be restrained from tipping by guying, tying or bracing.
  • Capacity-Scaffolds and scaffold components must support at least 4 times the maximum intended load. Suspension scaffold rigging must support at least 6 times the intended load.

In addition to complying with OSHA requirements for the design and construction of scaffolds, employers need to follow other scaffolding safety practices. They must ensure that scaffold suspension ropes and body belt or harness system droplines are shielded from heat-producing processes such as welding, hot acids or other corrosive substances, or cut by sharp edges or abrasions. Ropes should be made from material that is not affected by heat or by acids or other corrosives.

All scaffolds and scaffold components should be inspected before each use to ensure that structurally sound portions of buildings or structures are used to anchor droplines for body belt, harness systems, and tiebacks for suspension scaffold support devices. Droplines and tiebacks should be secured to separate anchor points.

Employees should be provided with appropriate fall protection systems and understand how to use them correctly. Generally, workers should be protected by a Type I guardrail system or a combination of body belt or harness system with a Type II guardrail system. The Type I guardrail systems are capable of providing the necessary fall protection without the use of body belts. Where the Type II guardrail systems accentuate the scaffold edge, restrain movement, provide handholds, and prevent wrong moves, they still must be supplemented by body belt or harness systems to provide the necessary fall protection.

The requirements differ when single-point and two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds are used. Workers must be protected by both a body belt or harness system and a Type I or Type II guardrail system. If boatswain chairs, catenary scaffolds or float scaffolds are used, workers only have to be protected by a body belt or harness system.

Miscellaneous Professional Liability – What It Is and Why It May Be Right For You

Miscellaneous Professional Liability (MPL) is a catch phrase in the insurance industry for a single, pliable product capable of contorting to the needs of a wide variety of professionals seeking coverage.  Because of its unique nature, MPL has come to mean different things to different people over the years.  First offered in the 1970s, Miscellaneous Professional Liability was originally designed to cover any type of profession conceivable.  The boundaries would be that of the comfort level of the underwriter, and the existence of other products available, which would obviate the need for such coverage, i.e., accountant’s professional liability for accountants, etc.  In lieu of such other coverage, if the underwriter could mold a policy for the exposure and decide on a premium, coverage would be offered.

This model still exists today, however the times are changing.  What is written on a MPL policy form and the degree of specialization has radically altered the landscape of the MPL world, as have the needs of the clientele who purchase such policies.  In the past, MPL was the form of choice for those in professions that were either too small in number to attract large scale insurer interest, or too collectively unaware of the availability and need for coverage.  For example, while real estate agents today can still purchase MPL coverage on an MPL form, most Realtors, either individually or through their agencies, purchase specially designed Real Estate Agents Professional Liability.  This has prompted numerous specialists to develop specific forms for Realtors with more bells and whistles than an MPL policy will typically offer, and at pricing that is sometimes a bit more attractive than a standardized MPL policy can offer. 

Similar evolutionary trends are occurring or have occurred elsewhere in the MPL arena.  Once, a computer programmer could only find coverage, if lucky, on an MPL form with “Electronic Data Processors” endorsements added on to tailor the coverage accordingly.  Nowadays, with the boom in technology (notwithstanding recent turbulence to the contrary), MPL coverage for technology professionals has morphed into highly specialized forms with titles such as “Computer & Technology Products & Services Professional Liability Insurance” and can sometimes be incorporated into other coverages such as a Business Owners Policy. 

While the natural trend, as industry segments increase in size, is to break off from the MPL mainstream and offer specialty coverages, the traditional standby MPL policy works just fine for most professions.  Surprisingly, the MPL generalist may be able to offer a better price or coverage than the specialist for some classes of business.  Ask your agent to secure at least two quotes if available and don’t be fooled by the marketing and glitz.  Often the bells and whistles are offered because there is little value to them and/or the coverage exists elsewhere already.  Using your industry knowledge and your agent’s insurance expertise, you should be able to determine which quotes and coverages are the most appropriate for you. 

Although the definition of which exposures fit into the MPL model differs from company to company, and MPL Underwriters truly love the challenge of underwriting new or unusual types of Miscellaneous Professional Liability exposures (example: Fire Ladder Inspector), there is a great deal of overlap.  Following are some of the classes that a typical MPL Underwriter may look at, in no particular order:

·        Talent Agents                                

·        Publishers

·        Business Brokers

·        Funeral Directors

·        Mortgage Brokers

·        Third Party Administrators

·        Employee Benefit Administrators

·        Public Adjusters

·        Computer Consultants

·        Marketing Consultants

·        Management Consultants

·        Broadcasters/Film Producers

·        Barbers & Beauticians

·        Actuaries Association Management Firms

·        Home Inspectors

·        Land Surveyors

·        Public Relations Firms

·        Advertising Agencies

·        Trustees

·        Title Agents

·        Title Abstractors

·        Escrow Agents

·        Real Estate Agents

·        Travel Agents/Tour Operators

·        Freight Forwarders/Customs House Brokers

·        Printers

·        Notaries

·        Staffing/Employee Leasing Firms

Insurance Advice for after the Storm

Severe weather can come in many shapes and sizes.  It may take the form of heavy rain or snow, strong winds, thunder and lightning, and/or flooding.   When it comes to protecting your home and auto, you must prepare for the worst.  If damaging weather does come your way, here are some suggestions on what to do when the storm has passed:

1.   Contact your agent or insurance company as soon as possible to arrange a visit from an adjuster.

2.   Take photographs of any damage before doing repairs to your home.  Also, make an itemized list of all damage sustained during the storm and its aftermath.

3.   Protect your home from further damage by making only temporary repairs until your insurance company advises you further. Save all receipts for materials purchased for repairs.

4. Exercise caution when beginning repairs and clean up. Be careful with power tools such as chainsaws, and use proper safety equipment like safety helmets and/or glasses.

5.   Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the repair costs.

6.   If necessary, rent temporary shelter. If your home is uninhabitable, most policies pay additional living expenses while it is being repaired. Before renting temporary shelter, check with your insurance company or agent to determine what expenses will be reimbursed.

7.   Unless you have purchased extra coverage, food lost in a power outage is most likely not covered. Consider buying an endorsement to cover future food losses.

8. Damages to appliances from a power surge are typically covered; however some electronic components may not be. Check with your agent to see what your policy covers.

9.   Most damage to your home or surrounding structures from fallen trees is covered. Check with your agent or company before calling a tree removal service; those costs may be covered, too.

10.   Damage to your vehicles from fallen trees or debris may be covered by your auto policy. Check with your agent.

Preventing and Uncovering Employee Fraud at Construction Firms

Construction projects typically involve the purchase of costly materials, the lease or purchase of equipment, and payments to subcontractors, resulting in significant accounts payable.  It should come as no surprise that certain company employees might be in a position to accomplish substantial misappropriation of funds.

The risk of insider theft is almost always underestimated, as employers are inclined to trust their employees.  Many construction executives and managers who tend to pay closer attention to reducing the risk of theft by strangers, may pay less attention to preventing theft by insiders.  In addition, the size of the risk – in terms of the amount that could be lost — may be grossly underestimated.

For example, in one case, the contract manager of a construction company had authority to approve vendors and checks paid to them.  The manager made a deal with two of the vendors.  The vendors submitted phony or inflated invoices for materials or labor, the manager approved payment, and the three split the proceeds.  Fortunately, the company was a Fortune 1000 enterprise and had an internal communication program that allowed employees to request information on any subject.  When a curious worker inquired as to why this particular construction project was costing so much, an audit revealed the manager had pocketed more than $565,000.  

Certain management practices have shown to make it less likely employees will turn to insider theft.   Most importantly, create an environment that promotes honesty, and increase the perception that theft will actually be discovered.  Experts believe that an environment of trust is important in fraud prevention.  If an employer expects its employees to steal, they are more likely to perform as expected, that is to steal.  To reduce the risk of insider theft the best attitude is one of trust, while conveying that those who betray the trust are likely to be exposed. 

Most employee fraudsters initially start stealing as the result of financial pressures, such as: family, medical or other large expenses; desire to live beyond their means; gambling or drug habits.  Since most employee fraudsters are first-time criminals, they stand to lose a lot from being caught stealing, subsequently arrested, and possibly sent to jail.  Consequently, they tend to care whether they are caught and are less likely to steal when there is high probability they will be discovered. 

Equally important is a strong anti-fraud policy.  The policy should include instructions on how to report suspected fraud and assurances that the company encourages such reporting and will protect from retaliation.  Employers might even consider a confidential, dedicated telephone number for reporting potential fraud.  Honest employees are much more likely to report fraud when the organization invites and encourages them to do so.  Emphasis on ethical practices in an ethical environment, rewards for company loyalty, and clear performance standards are some of the practices that decrease the likelihood that employees will steal. 

Accounting controls, built-in detection mechanisms, reconciliation of records, compartmentalization of access and duties, requiring multiple approvals for expenditures, and frequent audits that include steps to uncover fraud increase the actual and perceived probability of discovery.  A firm’s accountants or auditors may not necessarily be looking for fraud, unless specifically requested to do so.  To reduce the risk, it may be advisable to consult with professionals about fraud prevention and detection systems, including making periodic informal or even formal surveys of employees about whether they know of any fraud by their fellow employees.  Where such checks and balances exist, it is more difficult (though still not impossible) to defraud an organization.

Coverage for theft by insiders is not part of standard insurance policies and must be purchased as a special employee dishonesty policy to insure losses caused by fraud, embezzlement, or other internally committed thefts.  Such insurance is available and should be considered due to the high risk of insider theft in some types of companies.

Deciding on Umbrella Coverage Amounts

One million dollars is the minimum amount of coverage for an umbrella policy. However, insurance companies usually offer these types of insurance policies in one million dollar increments and often go up to five or ten million. Some companies that target high net worth individuals may offer up to fifty million or more in coverage. Most people who purchase an umbrella policy choose the one million dollar amount, but many choose two million dollars or more. A rough estimate of what it costs for the first million is about $200 to $250 a year, but can be higher if you have more than two cars, young drivers or points on your record. While each incremental amount above the first million is slightly less, increments exceeding ten million can be higher.

The more coverage you have, the more bullet proof you will be if you become liable for a catastrophic incident. One of the best aspects of this coverage is that it’s very inexpensive. It’s important for those considering this type of insurance to avoid cutting corners. Shortcuts cannot be afforded when all accumulated assets from an entire lifetime are in question. Some believe that all they need is coverage for whatever their net worth is, but settlements and judgments can go beyond someone’s assets because damages are never limited to someone’s net worth.

It’s also important to protect future wages from garnishment. The future income of an individual who doesn’t have ample coverage can also be jeopardized. If the person who is injured earns a considerable amount of money, that individual is more likely to be a target of the best liability attorneys.

Although one million may appear to be more than enough coverage, the total cost of liability claims can multiply quickly. In today’s world, a million isn’t much. It’s not unusual to read in the news of settlements over well over five million. Losing the ability to earn an income and facing a lifetime of injuries or medical care can easily total beyond several million dollars over the span of an individual’s lifetime, not to mention situations where multiple people are injured, which would multiply the total damages. It’s important to consider what amount would be acceptable for various conditions. For example, ask yourself how much you would settle for if you were paralyzed and unable to work the rest of your life.

Anyone who has something to lose should have at the very minimum a two million dollar umbrella, but if you really have a lot to lose and don’t want to gamble with your life’s wealth, your options are at least a five million dollar policy, if not more. The coverage you get should be discussed with your agent, and it may not be a bad idea to get input from a personal injury attorney as well.

Don’t Let Crime Plague Your Construction Site

Whether it be arson, vandalism, or theft, construction sites are prime targets for criminal acts. These criminal acts can create some significant added costs, including insurance deductibles and consequential premium hikes; work delays; and replacement of lost equipment, tools, and building materials. Of course, such an event can also affect your overall job site and your client’s deadline.

The good news is there are several steps you can take to diminish the risk and financial impact of criminal acts involving your job site:

1. Research the work area prior to beginning a job.

Carefully researching unfamiliar work areas is especially important if you’re not planning to hire on-site security, but should be done regardless. The local police or sheriff department can tell you if a particular area has a high crime rate. If you ask, they’ll also usually be able to send a patrol car out to periodically check your site once the work begins. You might additionally ask friendly competitors if they’ve had any problems in a particular area.

2. Ensure the job site is well-lit and fenced.

Most thieves and vandals will think twice before acting if they have to climb or cut a fence and perform their ‘work’ without the protection of dark. Motion detector lights and lights with infrared triggers will illuminate when movement triggers them. This can scare off intruders and alert neighboring businesses and houses that someone might be lurking around. Most experts recommend using a chain-link fence since it, unlike many other barriers, will offer an enclosure that still allows visibility. Of course, chain-link can be a more expensive barrier. If it’s not in the budget, then designate enclosed storage areas to hold tools, construction materials, hazardous items, and flammables.

3. Implement an inventory system for all tools and equipment.

This will help you keep track of everything on your work site. Smaller tools that are easier to carry and conceal are often targeted by thieves. Assign the site foreman or supervisor to keep a running log of when a tool goes out, the worker using it, and its return. You can use an etching tool to create a serial number on any piece of equipment or tool that doesn’t have a distinguishing number. It’s also wise to put your company’s logo or name on expensive items.

4. Consider installing ignition cutout switches and GPS.

You can immobilize heavy vehicles and machinery by installing ignition cutout switches. GPS should also be a consideration for expensive heavy equipment and machinery. These are relatively compact and easy to install. The GPS will alert you when the equipment is being used, where it’s at, and if it leaves where it should be.

5. Security, be it real or faux.

A security camera isn’t just a visual deterrence to criminals. It can also help you catch brazen thieves and possibly retrieve your stolen goods. A security guard and/or guard dog only elevates the level of security at the site. There are also electronic devices that emit a barking sound to give the illusion of a real guard dog. Whether you actually have a surveillance system, guard, and watch dog, post the warning signs as if you do.

6. Control access points to the work site.

Whenever possible, a site should only have a single entry and exit point. Keep in mind that it will be increasingly difficult to monitor the coming and going of individuals on a site with each additional access point. You might also consider asking employees to park off-site.

7. Plan out deliveries and installations.

Items like HVAC systems, plywood, windows, and doors often come days or weeks before they’re actually ready to be installed. Since the target on these items becomes larger the longer they sit around virtually unattended, you should either install them to some degree as soon as they arrive; store them in an enclosed, secure area; or, most preferably, schedule the delivery as close to the projected installation time as possible.

8. Have a lock-up procedure in place.

Designate certain employees to ensure the day’s end lock-up, which should include ensuring that all supplies are securely locked in their designed area, vehicles are locked and key-less, and oil/gas tank caps are locked.

9. Involve the community.

Ask nearby residential and business neighbors to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity during non-work hours. 

Using Vacuum Sanding Systems to Decrease Exposure to Drywall Sanding Dust

Generating dust on a construction site is a hazard of the profession. Workers sanding drywall joint compound may have the greatest exposure. They can be exposed to large concentrations of dusts and possibly silica as joint compounds are made from a variety of components such as talc, calcite, mica, gypsum, and silica. Some of these ingredients have been linked with mild to moderate eye, nose, throat, and respiratory tract irritation. However, continually breathing the dust from drywall joint compounds may cause severe throat and airway irritation, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Smokers or workers with sinus or respiratory problems are at risk for even greater health problems. When silica is present, workers may be exposed to an increased risk of silicosis and lung cancer.

Finding an appropriate solution to the problem is a double-edged sword. It is in an employer’s best interests to control dust exposure to cut down on health absences and the costs associated with these types of absences, but not at the expense of workflow. Material Safety Data Sheets provided by joint compound manufacturers have attempted to deal with the problem. Either they recommend wet sanding, which is generally avoided because of concerns about drying time and texture finish; or wearing respiratory protection, which many workers fail to wear properly.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studied several sanding systems that use portable vacuums to capture and remove the dust before the worker is exposed to it. Their engineers compared the dust exposures from three pole sanding and two hand-sanding vacuum control systems with the exposures from traditional, non-ventilated sanding methods. The five commercially available vacuum sanding controls successfully reduced dust exposures by 80% to 97%. Four of the five sanding controls cut exposures by almost 95%.

In addition to lowering exposures, the engineers also found that vacuum-sanding systems can help both the worker and the employer in other ways. The reduction in airborne dust makes for a much cleaner work area both during and after sanding. For workers, the cleaner work environment is more comfortable; less irritating to eyes, nose, and throat; and less likely to require respiratory protection. For the employer it means that workers will be more productive, be absent less, and require fewer breaks for fresh air. There is a cost savings that results from a cleaner environment because it reduces cleanup time and the time spent in repairing or repainting stained floors and carpets.  These findings proved that using safety measures to protect worker health didn’t have to come at the expense of quality or cost-effectiveness.

Tips for Weathering Hurricane Season

Experts are predicting a 51 percent chance that a major hurricane will hit the East Coast before the hurricane season ends in December. Similarly, the chance of a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville, Texas, is predicted at 50 percent. Both predictions are well above long-term averages, which signals a potentially active hurricane season.

The Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science expects ten Atlantic Ocean hurricanes this year, five of which they say will be intense, ranging from Category 3 (111 mph) to Category 5 (sustained winds of 156 mph or more).

While 2009 was a below average year, it was just a few years ago that hurricanes Katrina and Rita physically devastated the Gulf Coast. Some areas still have not fully recovered.

Imagine how you would feel realizing the day after a hurricane tears through your neighborhood that you don’t have wind or flood insurance, which together provide the bulk of coverage against hurricane damage.

Review Your Policy

If you live in a coastal area, your homeowners’ insurance policy probably doesn’t provide wind coverage, let alone hurricane coverage. Flood insurance is also not included in your typical homeowners’ policy. Consider that many homes in Mississippi affected by Hurricane Katrina’s flooding were not in designated flood zones and were uninsured. In fact, 25% of all flood insurance claims are paid on homes in low to moderate risk areas.

A separate policy protecting your home against flood damage is a wise, relatively inexpensive investment. The federal government by way of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) backs flood coverage. You should also be sure you are covered for wind damage.

Here are some hurricane season tips from the National Hurricane Center:

Secure Your Home

-Protect areas where wind and water can enter your home.

-One of the best ways to protect a home from windstorm damage is to install impact-resistant shutters over all large windows and glass doors to protect the doors and windows from wind-borne objects. They may also reduce damage caused by sudden pressure changes when a window or door is broken.

Family Disaster Plan

-Discuss the types of hazards that could affect your family.

-Locate the safest area to be in your home within your community.

-Have predetermined escape routes and places to meet.

-Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact so all your family members have a single point of reference.

-Have a pet plan in the event you need to evacuate.

-Post emergency phone numbers and be sure children know how to use the 911 system.

-Buy a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio and replace the batteries every six months.

-Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.

-Keep stock of nonperishable emergency supplies and have a disaster supply kit that includes:

1.   One gallon of water daily per person for three to seven days.

2.   Enough nonperishable food and juices for three to seven days.

3.   Cooking tools (including a non-electric can opener), fuel, paper plates and utensils.

4.   Pet care items including proper identification, immunization records, medication, an ample supply of food and water, a carrier or kennel and a muzzle and leash.

5.   Blankets and pillows.

6.   Medication/prescriptions.

7.   Cash (an ATM will not work without power).

8.   Important documents (keep in a waterproof container).

9.   Toys, books and games.

The Malpractice Cap: Order in the Court?

A few years ago, in a relatively small town in a quiet (not known for big lawsuits) area of the country, an Ob/Gyn (Obstetrics and Gynecology) doctor opened his new practice.  In helping the community while beginning to raise his family, he earned $300,000 in his second year.  Only seven years later, his malpractice insurance cost $300,000-and he had not reported a single claim!

Jury awards for medical malpractice in the U.S. have reached dizzying heights, prompting young doctors to flee states like Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and others. For example, a March 20, 2003 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the number of practicing doctors in the state, younger than 35, had fallen from 12.4% in 1989 to a mere 4.7% in 2000.  Other states report similar rates of defection.

Two other adverse results are astronomical insurance premiums for malpractice insurance, especially for thoracic and neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists and other specialists, and equally skyrocketing costs for healthcare (malpractice premiums alone can’t cover the claims).  Now the gloves are off, and several states have introduced legislation to cap pain-and-suffering awards at $250,000, though no one seems to be able to say how that figure is calculated.  There are mountains of data, of course, to support arguments for outright caps, no caps, graduated award tables and other approaches to the issue.  In many cases, it’s the same data.

How much is pain worth?  A 20 year old, maimed or disfigured for life through a doctor’s error, who gets a $250,000 award and lives to age 77 (life insurance table), has been awarded $12. a day or $8. a day after the attorney took 33%.

How much was Jesica Santillan worth?  Jesica died in the esteemed Duke University Medical Center in February 2003, after doctors transplanted lungs and a heart that were an obvious mismatch.  You might argue that she was an illegal immigrant whose parents smuggled her into the country to get medical care not available to her in Mexico.  But doctors could easily have made the same mistake to a Rhodes Scholar or Nobel Laureate.  Some argue that a person is a person, that all lives have the same value.  The passion on every side of the issue-and there are more than two sides-is sincere.

California passed MICRA, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, in 1975, setting a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages.  $250,000 1975 dollars are worth $84,000 today.  Adjusted for inflation, the MICRA “cap” should be $897,000 today. 

Another critical element to the malpractice mosaic is the fee structure attorneys enjoy.  It’s an element under siege.  Should an attorney get a third or half of a jury award?  There may not be an all-purpose answer to the question.  Litigating a complex medical claim can be very time-consuming for attorneys, paralegals, and the experts hired to provide expert testimony.  Obviously, all the money in that fee doesn’t wind up in one lawyer’s pocket.  Defense is equally expensive, and those costs are borne by the malpractice carrier.  Lawyers who file frivolous suits cloud the picture even further.

Proposals abound to deal fairly with this complicated aspect of our culture.  Some advance sliding scale fees for attorneys; some propose different caps for different injuries.  New ideas appear almost daily.  But “local” climates prevail, as they have in other instances.  For example, you might suffer a malpractice injury in a Minnesota hospital, but you’re allowed to sue in your home state of Texas, which may be a friendlier jurisdiction.

Answers are neither fast nor easy, but with the problem out in the open in so many states, fair, rational solutions that reach across state lines and political ideologies may at least be on the horizon.

Policy Deductible Increases: The Safer Way to Save Premium Dollars

Money is still tight for many Americans, meaning most are still looking to save when and where they can. Some people have even turned to the their insurance policies as a place to cut costs. Insurance can be expensive, but consumers need to carefully ask themselves where and how they can really save money in this area without jeopardizing the protections offered by their coverages.

Two typical places that many insured individuals think they can cut the cost of their premiums are from reducing the dwelling/liability limits on their homeowner’s policy and reducing the liability limits on their auto insurance policy.

In reality, cutting the liability limits on these policies leaves you highly vulnerable to risk and will not ultimately save you any money over the long run. While you might save a few dollars now with such tactics, it really isn’t worth it when you stop to think about just how much you could lose if you were sued after someone was injured in your home.

If you want to decrease your premiums, a much more prudent way to do it is by increasing the deductibles in your auto and/or home policies. A deductible increase from $250 to $500 could save you up to 15% on your homeowner’s insurance premiums. You can save 30% or more on your premiums by raising the physical damage deductible on your auto insurance policy to $500 or $1000 dollars.

Some consumers get nervous about not having the $500 to cover their newly raised deductible should they need to file a claim. Since the situation doesn’t involve thousands of dollars in difference, it’s likely to be just as difficult for most people to come up with $500 as it would be $250. The only difference will be that the extra premium savings can be saved and set aside to cover the higher deductible from any future claims. In most cases, the additional $250 could be saved in less than 24 months.

If you’re nervous about taking the larger leap to a $1000 deductible, then you can always take a slow and steady approach. You might increase your deductible to $500 first. You can open a savings account for the premium dollars you’ll save each month from having a slightly higher deductible. Although it may take some time, you can eventually raise your deductible to $1000 when you have saved $500 to $750 dollars in the account.

Unlike lowering limits, deductible raises can save you money without placing you at a greater financial risk.

Understanding OSHA Illness & Injury Recordkeeping Requirements

In 2003, the most current statistics available, occupational injury and illness rates declined once more to 5.0 cases per 100 workers, thanks in great part to continuing efforts by OSHA to identify and correct hazards in the workplace.  OSHA is able to recognize workplace hazards by thoroughly tracking workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.  Stringent requirements have been in place for record keeping of work-related illnesses and injuries since 1971.  To remain compliant and help OSHA continue to reduce workplace accidents and illnesses, it is crucial that employers understand their record keeping responsibilities.

First, a company must know whether they are required to keep records of work-related accidents, injuries, and illnesses.  Small businesses with 10 or fewer employees are exempt unless they are selected by OSHA or the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be involved in a mandatory data collection.  Some low-hazard classified industries in the retail, service, finance, insurance and real estate sectors, are also exempt.   A full list is available at www.osha.gov.  However, when a worker is killed on the job, and/or three or more workers are hospitalized, all employers covered by OSHA, including those who are exempt for the above reasons, must report to the agency within eight hours.

Secondly, it is crucial to know that work-related is defined as an event or exposure in the work environment that caused or contributed to the condition.  Injuries and illnesses are reportable even if an employee has a pre-existing condition that was significantly aggravated by a situation that occurred in the work environment.

To accurately follow OSHA’s record keeping guidelines, companies must know how to identify which work-related illnesses or injuries are reportable.  Those that result in death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work activity, job transfer or medical treatment, beyond first aid, must be reported.  Furthermore, employers must report any significant work-related injury or illness that is diagnosed by a licensed health care professional including work-related cases involving cancer, chronic irreversible disease, a fractured bone or a punctured eardrum.  Visit www.osha.gov for a full list of criteria that also includes any needle stick injury or tuberculosis infection. 

Though companies are not required to routinely submit their incident reports, they are expected to vigilantly record them as OSHA conducts random site visits and could otherwise request them at anytime.  There are three key required forms:

1.                  Injury and Illness Report (Form 301) This form details the incident and must be filled out within seven calendar days of learning that a recordable work-related injury or illness has occurred.   It must be kept on file for five years following the year to which it pertains.

2.                  Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form 300) This form is a running list of all work-related injuries and illnesses.  Employers must keep a log for each worksite.

3.                  Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form 300A) This form totals the injuries and illnesses for the year and must be visibly posted at the worksite February 1 through April 30 of the year following the year indicated in the form.

Employers must know that their employees have the right to review their injury and illness records and that listing a case on the log does not mean the employer violated an OSHA standard or was at fault.  All the appropriate forms and instructions for completing them are available at www.osha.gov.

Insurance for Small Construction Businesses

Small construction businesses require several of the same types of insurance coverage that larger businesses need. In addition to this, there are types of coverage available that are specific to the construction industry. It’s best to speak with a qualified agent who has experience in insuring small construction businesses. Agents with experience are able to provide the best coverage options.

Property Coverage
Property insurance may be needed to provide coverage for any real property owned by the company. This coverage may also be needed to cover any personal property that is used for the business. The largest amount of property loss may involve equipment that is taken to varying sites and valuable machinery. Standard property insurance doesn’t provide coverage for such items. It’s necessary to purchase floaters from contract insurers for such items. Speak with an agent to learn what types of floaters are available and to determine which ones are the best choice for an individual business. It’s important to keep in mind that a building has a value that steadily increases as it’s being constructed. In order to ensure that it is covered properly, it’s best to purchase a special policy. This policy is called Builders Risk Insurance. Speak with an agent to learn how these policies work and what they cover.

Liability Coverage
Every small business needs liability coverage. In today’s litigious world, nearly anyone can file a claim stating that they were injured by or at a specific business. Since this is common, it’s important to be prepared to face such a situation by purchasing a good liability policy. Some small construction businesses may want to have their subcontractors purchase Owners and Contractors Protective Liability Coverage, which is also called OCP. This type of insurance covers a business owner or business property owner from liability resulting from negligence of their independent contractors or subcontractors. The subcontractor or contractor is the actual purchaser of this policy. However, the benefits and protection are credited to the business owner or business property owner who the contractor agrees to work for.

Business Vehicle Coverage
Personal car insurance policies often cover some business use of a vehicle. However, if the vehicle is used primarily for business, it’s unlikely that a personal auto policy will provide the same coverage. The policy will never provide coverage for a vehicle that is owned by a business. It’s important to have business vehicles insured with a policy that is specific for businesses. If a personal vehicle is involved in an accident resulting in injuries to others while being used for business, the injured parties can sue the insured individual personally. However, most policies don’t provide enough coverage to compensate in such a situation. It’s best to contact an agent to determine what amounts should be purchased for an individual business. 

Don’t Let Obsolete Driving Techniques Put You in Harm’s Way

It can be hard to hear your kids call your beloved television show reruns, choice of music, hairstyle, and/or clothes old school, but you’ll have to remember that you probably didn’t exactly jive with your parent’s choices either. While Elvis’s Rubbernecking may forever play in your head and never become dated in your eyes, you should realize that your driving techniques may be one dated area truly in need of an update. The advances made to automotive technology and in safety research have likely made most of what you learned as a new driver not only dated, but dangerous.

Here are six tips to bring your driving skills up-to-date and avoid jeopardizing your safety, as well as those around you.

1. Seat position – airbags have made seat positioning an important safety issue for drivers and passengers. When airbags were first placed in vehicles, they caused some serious injuries to drivers seated too close during a deployment. Even modern de-powered airbags can deploy at 150 mph and cause serious injuries if the driver isn’t seated at a safe distance. Position your seat 10-12 inches from the steering wheel.

2. Hand position – you probably learned to keep your hands palm-side down at 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock as you grip the steering wheel. Today, it’s recommended that your left hand be at 8 o’clock and your right hand be at 4 o’clock to help prevent your arms from tiring during prolonged driving. It’s also recommended to place your thumbs atop the steering wheel and wrap your fingers underneath the wheel.

3. Wheel turns – you probably learned the hand-over-hand method of turning the steering wheel. It’s now recommended to use a push-pull-slide method where one hand pushes the wheel up as the other hand pulls it down. Neither forearm will cross the steering wheel hub, and neither hand will leave the steering wheel. The upward pushing hand continues to push as it slides back to it’s original positioning. Meanwhile, the other hand is sliding back as it continues to pull. The driving technique is aimed at reducing the risk of hitting yourself in the face if your airbag were to deploy.

4. Normal breaking – it’s been discovered that you have the greatest control over breaking when you keep your heel on the floorboard and normally break with the toes. Ensure that you judge stopping distances accurately in order to use the same degree of braking pressure from the time you first break until the vehicle actually comes to a complete stop.

5. Breaking on slick surfaces – leave the transmission in drive and remove your foot from the accelerator if you’re breaking on a slick surface area. The drag of engine compression will help the vehicle to slow down quicker.

6. Emergency breaking – anti-lock breaking systems, or ABS, mean that you no longer need to pump the breaks. During emergency breaking, just maintain a firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal. Remember to steer in the direction you need the vehicle to go.

Lead Poisoning: Protection Isn’t Just for Kids

Lead poisoning is a preventable condition that results from environmental exposure to lead and can result in permanent health damage. Lead poisoning affects almost all parts of the body, including the central nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive organs.

Adults are most often exposed to lead through occupational exposures. The major sources of lead are lead-based paint, urban soil and dust that contains deposits of paint, gasoline additives and industrial waste, and drinking water that has been contaminated from lead solder, brass fittings and fixtures.

Once lead enters the body, from inhalation or ingestion, it is distributed to the red blood cells, soft tissue and bones by way of the bloodstream.  It impairs vital biological functions throughout the body. Lead can cause serious damage to body systems, which may be permanent or fatal.

Chronic lead poisoning results after lead has accumulated in the bones over time. Adverse health effects may appear long after the exposure to lead has ended. Such problems include: impaired hemoglobin synthesis, hypertension, alteration in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and damage to the reproductive system.

Acute lead poisoning results after a significant amount of lead has entered the body over a short period of time. The primary health effects involve gastrointestinal distress, destruction of red blood cells and serious brain swelling.  Symptoms of less severe acute lead poisonings include: abdominal pain, constipation, irritability, fatigue, weakness and muscle pain. If someone is suffering from a more severe form of acute lead poisoning, their symptoms might include: vomiting, irritability and restlessness, progressive drowsiness, tremors and seizures and lapsing into a coma.

If an employer intends to shield workers from excessive exposure to lead poisoning, they must follow the following safety practices:

·        Have an industrial hygienist perform an initial hazard assessment of the worksite to determine the composition of any paint. Environmental monitoring should also be performed to measure worker exposure to airborne lead and select the engineering controls and personal protective equipment that is necessary. Environmental monitoring should be performed on an ongoing basis to measure the effectiveness of controls and to determine whether the proper respiratory protection is being worn.

·        Engineering controls should be used to minimize exposures to lead at the worksite. Airborne lead exposures should not exceed the current OSHA standard for general industry (50 µg/m3). Engineering controls should try to include substitution of less toxic material, equipment modification, and local and general exhaust ventilation.

·        Before welding, cutting, or burning any metal coated with lead, remove the coating to a point at least 4 inches from the area where heat will be applied. When removal of lead-based paint is not possible, use engineering controls like exhaust ventilation to protect workers who are welding, cutting, or burning the lead-coated materials. These controls should be used to remove fumes and smoke at the source and to keep the concentration of lead in the breathing zone below the OSHA standard. Contaminated air should be filtered before it is discharged into the environment.  

·        When performing abrasive blasting, scaling, chipping, grinding, or other operations to remove lead-based paint, minimize the amount of dust generated by using centrifugal blasting, wet blasting, and vacuum blasting. Other methods that reduce dust include scraping, use of needle guns, and chemical removal.

All workers exposed to lead should wash their hands and faces before eating, drinking, or smoking, and they should not eat, drink, or smoke in the work area. They should change into work clothes at the worksite. Street clothes should be stored separately from work clothes in a clean area provided by the employer. Workers should change back into their street clothes after washing or showering and before leaving the worksite. Cars should be parked where they will not be contaminated.

Homeowners Insurance & Social Gatherings

Many homeowners enjoy throwing parties for holidays or special events. If a party is in the near future, be sure that individual homeowners coverage is adequate. Guests who are injured may need to file an injury claim if their vehicle is damaged, if they fall down or if a pet bites them. Research shows that about 75 percent of adult homeowners who plan social gatherings in their homes do not have a personal umbrella policy. This makes them more vulnerable to lawsuits stemming from guests who suffer injuries. The same research study showed that the remainder of the homeowners surveyed did not know what type of coverage they had. This means it is likely that the percentage of homeowners who do not have adequate coverage is more than 75 percent. However, they should have this extra coverage to protect themselves from lawsuits. Although dog bites and falls are common, alcohol is one liability issue that is often overlooked but is very risky.

Alcoholic drinks are viewed as a way to relax and enjoy socializing. However, there is one sobering fact that many homeowners who plan to serve these drinks should know. In 30 states, homeowners may be responsible for damages arising from any auto accidents caused by their intoxicated guests who choose to drive home. In a research survey, more than 50 percent of homeowners said they agreed that party hosts should be responsible for their guests’ safety. However, very few took any steps to obtain adequate insurance coverage. The research study concluded that most people avoid purchasing a personal umbrella policy because they are under the impression that their regular homeowners coverage provides adequate protection for such matters. Since many lawsuits include large awards and medical costs, it is easy for one incident to exceed the homeowners liability limits.

Homeowners must take two steps to ensure they are protected. First, it is imperative for them to contact a personal agent to discuss umbrella policy options. It is also important to take the agent’s advice to avoid facing a costly lawsuit. The second step homeowners must take is to read the following suggestions, which are designed to reduce their risk of lawsuits from intoxicated party guests:

-Instead of having the party at a personal residence, reserve space in a restaurant or bar that has a liquor license.

-Ensure that there are filling food options and non-alcoholic beverage choices available.

-To avoid trouble from party-crashing strangers, limit invitations to friends or familiar people.

-For guests who appear drunk, provide transportation or overnight accommodations.

-Avoid serving alcohol to guests who appear intoxicated.

-Plan activities that draw attention away from drinking alcohol.

-If several guests are expected at a home party, consider hiring an off-duty police officer to handle problems and discreetly monitor guests’ alcohol consumption.

-Take away all alcoholic drinks at least one hour before the part is supposed to end.

Intellectual Property Liability Is Everywhere – But Where Is The Coverage?

It seems as though virtually anything created can be patented, copyrighted, trademarked or otherwise protected.  Oddly enough, even with patent protection there is danger. It is easy to believe that if you hold a patent, copyright or trademark you cannot possibly infringe on someone else’s intellectual property – but that’s not true. George Harrison certainly had a copyright on his song “My Sweet Lord” but that didn’t prevent highly publicized and successful litigation against him due to its similarity to the old Shirelle’s hit “He’s So Fine” in the 1970’s.  

With an average cost of $1.2 million to litigate, patent infringement trials weigh in as one of the most expensive types of litigation in the US today.  What was once the realm of the individual like Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison, or the very nearly individual (think Wright Brothers), has now become big business.  IBM, which annually tops the list of companies applying for and receiving patents, has received over 22,000 patents from 1993 to 2002, with patents accounting for about $10 billion in royalties during that ten year period according to the company’s website.  Complicating matters is the relatively recent innovation in its own right of the “Business Method Patent.”   Examples of these controversial patents are Amazon’s Internet shopping cart, or the “reverse auction” process that Priceline created and patented. 

Contrary to popular belief, however, intellectual property is not the patent or copyright that one applies for, but rather the idea behind it.  The registration process, be it copyright, patent, or other method, is merely a form of evidence or proof of the origin of the idea, and its timeline.   The piece of paper that one might receive acknowledging a copyright is merely a statement that the Office of Copyrights has not received anything else prior to the submission of the material that resembles it enough to call into question the authenticity of the work.   Conceivably, one may apply for and receive a copyright or patent for a piece of work and yet be sued.  But where’s the coverage you say?  Good question.  The answer is – it depends.

Take the Recording Industry Association of America’s litigation against numerous individuals in the summer of 2003.   Would your homeowners’ policy apply if you were sued for negligent supervision of your teenager leading to the illegal uploading of music to the Internet?  The answer is probably “no” because there is no bodily injury or property damage (theft of intellectual property is unlikely to be perceived as a form of property damage), and the policy is not designed to respond to pure financial loss claims.   So in a personal sense, you are probably out of luck.

For businesses the news is not as grim.  In a business scenario, the CGL has often been called upon for coverage in patent, copyright and trademark infringement cases.   If there is coverage to be found, it is the Advertising Injury portion of the policy but the catch is that the offense must then occur in the course of advertising one’s product, and not, for example, in the delivery of the product.  So although a computer-consulting firm may infringe on another firm’s copyright or patent (source code is patentable), it is probably not covered under the CGL because the offense did not occur while advertising the firm’s services. 

The good news is that there are an increasing number of products that are available for intellectual property coverage in the course of business operations.   Patent Infringement Liability Insurance is available from a select few niche insurance markets, though premiums are usually high, and coinsurance and retentions can be steep too.  Professional Liability for technology consultants and other companies with an intellectual property exposure can often be endorsed to cover copyright or trademark infringement, though usually not patents.  Advertising agencies or media businesses may find intellectual property coverage available for their operations as well.  If you are concerned about your intellectual property exposure, you need to talk to your agent to see what coverages are available.  Another good idea would be to speak to a lawyer who is well-versed in intellectual property law to learn what steps you should be taking to protect your intellectual property and minimize the risk of infringement.

Employee Drug Testing: Effective Tool Despite Legal Pitfalls

Drugs and the workplace are clearly a negative combination.  Employers may not only be liable for the negligence of an employee under the influence of drugs but also for negligently hiring an employee with a history of abusing drugs.  Lowered productivity and higher absenteeism are just a few more reasons employers want to keep drugs out of their workplace.  Drug testing can be an effective way to do just that. 

Drug testing can be a useful tool to prevent hiring substance abusers, deter employees from abusing drugs, provide early identification and treatment referral of employees with drug problems and provide a safe and productive workplace for all employees.  While illicit drug users are not protected under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA specifically provides that employers may prohibit the use of drugs in the workplace, drug testing still is full of legal pitfalls.

First and foremost, employers should always consult with legal counsel before implementing any drug-testing program.  Drug-testing restrictions are in place on federal and state levels and employers need to make sure they are in compliance.  State constitutions and statutes vary.  Some limit circumstances where drug testing is allowed and others have set requirements on pre-employment drug testing.  In addition, some states impose specific testing procedures and specific tests for false positive results. 

The Fourth Amendment of the United States constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, protects most government but not private sector employees from drug testing.  Federal government employees in “sensitive” positions or essentially those who operate commercial vehicles, carry a firearm or are in contact with sensitive information are generally subject to drug testing.  For unionized workforces, implementation of a drug testing program as well as the disciplinary consequences of testing positive for drugs must be negotiated. 

It is important to know that testing for alcohol is subject to different restrictions.  While a current illegal user of drugs is not protected by the ADA if an employer acts on the basis of such use, alcoholism is considered a disability and is protected by the ADA if the individual is qualified to perform essential functions of the job.  Still, an employer may require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol on the job and has certain rights under certain circumstances to discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic.  Again, the complicated ins and outs of ADA guidelines and state and federal legislation make it key to consult legal counsel for guidance when developing a testing program. 

When developing a drug program, the following factors need to be considered:  who will be tested (which positions); when will tests be conducted (pre-employment, upon reasonable suspicion); which drugs will be tested for; and how will tests be conducted. Employers should have written drug policies including the circumstances under which an employee or applicant will be denied employment.  To minimize potential liabilities, results of drug tests must be kept confidential and employees should obtain a release from all employees or applicants being tested.

It is also extremely important that employers retain a reputable drug-testing laboratory.  The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association’s website at www.datia.org includes a searchable database of accredited members.

Stay Afloat with Proper Boater’s Insurance

There are many hidden costs associated with owning a boat; dock fees, general maintenance, and winter storage, just to name a few. One cost boat owners should never skimp on is purchasing the best available insurance policy for their watercraft.

Since buying a boat is a huge investment, owners should protect their boat with comprehensive insurance coverage. Plans are often based on the type and size of the boat. Many homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies provide limited coverage for property damage if the boat’s engine is less than 25 mph horsepower or if it is a small sailboat, but without additional insurance, no liability coverage is included.

Owners of larger, more powerful boats and yachts will need to purchase a separate insurance policy for their boat. The insurance company will take into account the size and type of boat, its value, and where the boat sails when drawing up the conditions and cost of the policy.

Separate boat and watercraft insurance policies provide much more coverage to the owner. These policies generally include loss and damage coverage to the boat’s hull, machinery, furnishings, fittings, and any permanently attached equipment, like a navigation system. Liability coverage is extended to:

  • Bodily injury to other persons
  • Damage to other’s property
  • Legal expenses associated with non-consensual operation of the boat
  • Medical costs for injuries to the owner and passengers
  • Boat theft

Policyholders can choose the liability limits of their plan, ranging anywhere from $15,000 up to $300,000. The deductible cost for property damage is $250, and it ranges between $500 and $1,000 for theft and medical expenses. Of course, policies can be individualized based on the boat owner’s needs. Other endorsements and coverages can be added to the policy to cover the boat’s trailer, fishing gear kept aboard the boat, and any other accessories. Also, make sure to ask whether or not the policy covers the boat while it is being towed.

Just as car insurance providers offer discounts to their policyholders, discounts for watercraft policies apply in certain cases. For example, insurance companies favor diesel-powered engines over gasoline ones because diesel fuel is more stable, making the engine safer to operate.

Other discounts are related to safety equipment kept on the boat. Having items like fire extinguishers approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and ship-to-shore radio equipment could reduce the amount of the premium. Also, completing a boater’s safety course offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the American Red Cross, or the U.S. Power Squadrons can gain some favor with the insurance company.

Maintaining a clean boating record is just as important as being accident-free on the roadways, when it comes to lowering insurance rates. Premiums are usually discounted for every two years the boater goes without an accident or filing a claim. Bundling your watercraft insurance with homeowner’s and vehicle policies is another good way to save money on coverage costs.

A solid insurance policy gives boaters the peace of mind needed to set sail and enjoy the open waters. Nothing is more relaxing than knowing your investment is covered. 

Understanding Small Business Insurance

There are four types of insurance that most small businesses purchase. The first is property insurance. This type of coverage provides compensation if business property is damaged, stolen or lost. In addition to covering the physical business structure, property insurance covers personal property. This includes inventory, office furnishings, raw materials, computers, machinery and other items that are part of business operations. Property insurance coverage doesn’t end with protecting physical assets. It also affords operating funds when business owners must take steps to get their business back on track following major loss. Property insurance may provide coverage for broken equipment in some cases. It may also provide coverage for water damage, debris removal following a fire and several other specific items.

Business vehicle insurance is the second type of coverage many small businesses purchase. Anyone who uses their own personal vehicle for business purposes should discuss this type of coverage with their agent. Most personal vehicle insurance policies don’t provide coverage if the automobile that is involved in an accident is used mostly for business purposes. Business auto insurance policies afford coverage for vehicles that are owned and used by a business. Third parties injured by the policyholder’s vehicle receive compensation for damages up to the policy limit amount. Some policies may provide compensation for repair or replacement of vehicles that are damaged from flooding, theft, accidents and similar events.

The third type of coverage most small businesses purchase is liability insurance. This is because any business may face a lawsuit at some point in today’s litigious society. For example, a person may claim that a business caused them harm from a service error, defective product or negligence in providing a safe environment. Liability coverage provides compensation for damages a company is liable for. However, the coverage is only provided up to the policy’s limit amounts. These policies usually also provide funds for legal defense expenses, attorneys’ fees, medical bills and several other related expenses.

Workers compensation is the fourth type of insurance purchased by many small businesses. In nearly every state, employers are required by law to have workers compensation coverage if they have employees. This number usually varies from three to five, and even if a business has less than three employees, it is still wise to purchase this coverage. Workers compensation pays for a portion of lost wages for workers who are injured. In addition to this, it also covers the medical care they require. Coverage is provided to employees who are injured at work regardless of who is at fault. If workers die as a result of the injuries they sustain, the insurance company compensates the surviving family members of the deceased worker.

In addition to the four major types of coverage purchased, there are several other valuable policies some companies may want to purchase. Umbrella policies, terrorism coverage and specialized liability policies are all helpful. Umbrella policies, much like an umbrella, cover above and beyond the normal inclusions. These are usually obtained to prevent high losses by businesses with high risks. Specialized liability policies are made up of several types of individual coverage. It’s best to speak with an agent about these options. Terrorism coverage provides compensation for damages and medical care to a certain extent in the event of terrorism. To find out which options are best for an individual business, it’s best to speak with an agent.