Hiring the Disabled: What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

The question of how far an employer must go to accommodate a disabled employee is at the very heart of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Answering that question starts with understanding the term “reasonable accommodations.”

An accommodation is any change in the physical workplace, or in the methodology usually employed to perform a job, that allows a qualified individual with a disability to apply for and hold that particular job.

 There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • changes to a job application process that enable a qualified disabled applicant to be considered for the position.
  • changes to the physical work environment, or to the manner in which a job is normally performed, that permit a qualified disabled individual to perform the essential functions of that job.
  • changes that allow a disabled employee to take advantage of all of the benefits and privileges of employment in the same way that all non-disabled employees do.

The term “reasonable” refers to the change being “feasible” or “plausible.”  The only exception to an employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation is if it would cause “undue hardship” to the employer.  Undue hardship means that an employer would face great difficulty or expense to make the accommodation because they lack the resources or ability to provide the requested accommodation.  Undue hardship also refers to reasonable accommodations that are so extensive, substantial, or disruptive, that they would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business.

Keep in mind that in spite of the undue hardship clause, there are still a number of reasonable accommodations that do change operations, on some level, that the employer is required to make.  The majority of them have to do with job performance:

  • Job Restructuring – While an employer never has to reassign essential functions of a job in order to accommodate a disabled employee, they are required to reassign secondary job functions that an employee is unable to perform because of a disability.  They must also change when and how any function is performed, whether it is essential or secondary, to accommodate a disabled employee.

By the same token, if an employer restructures a job to eliminate some secondary functions, the employer can require the disabled employee to assume other secondary functions that they can perform.

  • Leave – Allowing the disabled employee to use accrued paid leave or unpaid leave when it is necessary because of their disability is another reasonable accommodation.  An employer does not have to provide paid leave beyond that which they normally provide to employees.  Employers can allow a disabled employee to use all of their accrued paid leave before providing unpaid leave.
  • Modified Scheduling – This includes changing arrival or departure times, providing periodic breaks, and changing the time certain functions are performed.  An employer must provide a modified schedule for a disabled employee, even if  they don’t provide such schedules for other employees unless it represents an undue hardship.
  • Modifying Personnel Policies – It would be a reasonable accommodation to modify a policy requiring employees to schedule vacation time in advance if a disabled employee needed to use accrued vacation time immediately because of disability- related medical problems, unless it presents an undue hardship.  In addition, an employer may be required to provide additional leave to an employee with a disability in spite of their leave policy, unless it presents an undue hardship.
  • Reassignment – Reassignment to a vacant position for which the disabled employee is qualified is also considered a reasonable accommodation.  This must be provided to an employee whose disability makes it impossible for them to continue to perform the functions of their current position.  The only exception is if the employer can prove that it would cause an undue hardship. 

Hurricane Preparedness Best Practices

It’s only May, and the southeastern United States has
already experienced two named storms.

Hurricanes are destructive and potentially deadly storms
that can cause a tremendous amount of property damage and, occasionally, people’s
lives. Longtime residents of coastal Florida, the Carolinas, Texas,
Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are familiar with the drill – but there are
always new people and always procrastinators every year. Hurricane preparedness
takes time! Don’t leave it to the last minute. Here are some things to keep in

Hurricane season is normally June through November. But that
doesn’t mean the occasional storm can’t come early or late. Don’t get

  • Maintain situational awareness. Keep an eye and
    ear on national and local media, and monitor developing weather systems.
  • Track the projected path of storms, using
    websites like National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov).
  • Do a risk assessment for your home. Assess
    vulnerability to storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. A Category 5 hurricane
    could result in storm surge of 30 feet above ground level in some areas. You
    can find a storm surge risk map at https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/risk/.
  • Plan on at least a three-day wait before substantial
    government assistance is in place. FEMA can’t put its trucks and trailers in
    the direct path of the storm. It takes at least three days for state and FEMA
    resources to be put in place.
  • Cut down large trees overhanging your house
    and garage. The tree could fall, taking out part of your house.
  • Expect a run on hurricane supplies in the last
    48 hours before the storm. Buy your batteries, bottled water, fuel cans,
    generators and other supplies before you need them.
  • Invest in hardened windows, shutters and doors.
  • Failing that, buy your plywood well ahead of
    time, along with a drill and screws to board up your windows.
  • Obey evacuation orders. If you receive an
    evacuation order, you are getting it because the authorities know they will not
    be able to reach you in an emergency. Many people in coastal communities are
    killed by hurricanes – or vanish forever – when they ignore orders to evacuate.
  • Keep your homeowners or renters coverage updated
    with the current replacement value of your home and belongings.
  • Inventory your belongings. You can use sites like:
    Lockboxer.com, Knowyourstuff.org (a creation of the Insurance Information
    Institute) and Stuffsafe.com. These
    resources are free or very low cost, and will facilitate compensation from your
    insurance company if your home is damaged or destroyed by a weather event.
  • Fill your gas tank. Many times, gas stations
    run out of fuel in the day or so before a storm. If you can’t fuel your
    vehicle, you can’t evacuate. And you may not be able to function.
  • Get a battery-operated radio. Don’t
    count on cell phones working for a number of days after a storm.
  • You may be without power for as long as two
    weeks and sometimes longer. Keep nonperishables, batteries and flashlights.
  • Keep your generator outdoors. Every year, people
    die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they moved their generator indoors
    to protect it from theft.
  • Understand your generator’s capacity. Generators
    have a limited load. This is especially important to know when you start up
    electrical items connected to the generator, because startups cause a spike in
    electrical demand.
  • Know your neighbors. Your neighbors may have a
    harder time preparing or evacuating from storms than you do, because of
    frailty, disability, young children, poverty or lack of reliable
  • Look out for family members of emergency
    responders. Police, fire department, National Guard members and medical
    personnel often have to concentrate on preparing for the mission, and have less
    time to attend to their own homes and families.
  • Know your community emergency management contacts.
    You can find an online listing at https://www.ready.gov/community-state-info
  • Don’t underestimate tropical storms. Just
    because it’s not a hurricane doesn’t mean it can’t do a lot of damage locally.
    Tropical storms can dump as much rain as a hurricane.

By understanding these guidelines, you can be an asset to
your community in the event of a hurricane, instead of a drain on emergency
resources. You will also have an easier time getting reimbursed by your
insurance company for any damage done, and be doing your part to keep overall
hurricane insurance premiums down.

Changes in First Aid Recommendations for the Workplace

First Aid training is probably the only type of instruction an employer provides that everyone in the workplace hopes never to need. However, when an injury or illness strikes, knowing how to effectively administer proper First Aid can be the deciding factor between a quick or a lengthy recovery, a temporary or permanent disability, and in some cases, life or death. That is why it is imperative to be familiar with common First Aid procedures. It is equally significant to learn the correct way to administer aid procedures so they are safe to perform.

In an attempt to discredit some of the faulty notions that have developed concerning current First Aid treatment recommendations, the American Safety & Health Institute (ASHI) along with 25 other nationally recognized organizations joined together to form the 2005 National First Aid Science Advisory Board (NFASAB). The Board’s mission was to review and evaluate the existing scientific literature on First Aid to determine the most effective treatments for common workplace injuries. They reviewed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cochrane Reviews, which are evidence-based evaluations of the effects of health care treatments, the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and medical journals and textbooks.

As a result of the Board’s review and evaluation of this data, they recommend the following procedures:

  • If an employee is bleeding, apply pressure firmly for an extended period of time, until either bleeding stops or paramedics arrive . Earlier guidelines also recommended elevating a bleeding limb above heart level and, if direct pressure was ineffective, pressing on specific arterial points. Actual evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against these practices and also the use of tourniquets .
  • Thermal burns should be treated with cold water as soon as possible, but direct application of ice to a burn area can cause harm. Avoid cooling burns with ice or ice water for longer than 10 minutes, especially if the burn covers more than 20% of a person’s body.
  • If an employee has a soft-tissue injury such as a sprain, strain, contusion or fracture, apply cold to the injury to decrease hemorrhage, edema, pain and disability. Cooling is best accomplished with a plastic bag or damp cloth filled with ice, which is more effective than re-freezable gel packs. To prevent injury, limit each application to periods of no more than 20 minutes and place a barrier, such as a thin towel, between the ice container and the skin .
  • To prevent a minor wound from becoming infected, cleanse the wound with clean tap water until all foreign matter has been flushed. Apply triple-antibiotic ointment or cream only to a scratch or superficial wound. Previous methods recommended applying antibiotic to all wounds no matter how deep.
  • Do not give water, milk or syrup of ipecac to someone who has ingested poison. Previous guidelines allowed use of these substances in certain cases after consultation with a poison control center, but they may be harmful and are not recommended now.

By keeping yourself and your employees up to date with basic First Aid care, as well as maintaining a well-stocked First Aid kit on-site, you can significantly reduce the chance of a severe trauma that could have been prevented by simple First Aid. 

Self-Insuring Workers’ Compensation Plans May Produce Premium Savings

Joining a workers’ compensation group self-insurance program may be a significant means for small and mid-sized employers to reduce operating costs. Such plans deliver savings by providing employers with considerable control over losses, medical care and rehabilitation, plus improving cash flow.

While some companies self-insure workers’ compensation programs individually, these are usually best suited for larger corporations with immense assets. For smaller and medium-sized businesses, a Group Self-Insurance (GSI) workers’ compensation plan is more suitable. A GSI is a non-profit association of employers formed for the specific purpose of providing workers’ compensation coverage. A GSI enables employers to assume a major portion of their risk and provides group purchasing power for excess insurance to cover individual losses or in the aggregate in excess of a specified amount.

Workers’ compensation is well suited for self-insurance plans because claims are typically of low severity but high frequency, which allows losses to be predicted with some accuracy. Further, payment for large claims can be spread over several years, which benefits a company’s cash flow. GSI programs enable companies to better manage safety programs and have more direct involvement in seeing that employees receive prompt medical care when injured, and employers are able to exercise closer monitoring of the return of the employee to work.

Requirements for joining or forming a GSI vary considerably from state to state. Some states do not allow GSIs and in other states, companies must meet certain solvency standards and provide financial and loss data to be considered. Also, if a company has operations in more than one state, GSIs must be setup in each state. A GSI in one state will not cover losses in another state.

Besides improved cash flow, the major benefits that come from joining or creating a GSI are enhanced loss experience through more effective loss prevention, loss control and managed care programs; reduced administrative costs, and interest income earned on premiums. GSIs in most states do not have to pay premium taxes and or be assessed for residual workers’ compensation market losses.

Members of a GSI pay a premium to the group based on their exposures, classification codes, payroll, experience modifications, and rates developed by a state’s workers’ compensation rate making bureau. At the end of the contract year, any surpluses from both the claims fund and the administrative expense fund can be returned as dividends to group members.

GSIs handle claims following guidelines of the state workers’ compensation laws. Often, third-party administrators handle loss prevention and control, case management, accounting, investment and actuarial services.

An agent can provide guidance to employers wanting to explore joining a GSI. An interested company should first seek management commitment as joining a GSI requires careful attention to the entire workers’ compensation program rather than shifting these responsibilities and duties to a private insurer. Also, an employer has to be willing to disclose detailed information regarding its finances, support systems and ongoing risks.

While GSIs offer important advantages, there are some disadvantages. Members of the group are usually jointly and severally liable for losses incurred by the entire membership. A bankruptcy or dissolution of a member does not release the remaining members from liability. If the GSI’s retention and excess insurance are exhausted by a catastrophic event, the group members must contribute their pro rata share of the total loss. And, if a GSI has a pattern of liberal underwriting for new members, it’s possible it will have financial deficiencies in the future.

If an employer understands the additional risks it assumes as well as the added reporting and administrative duties when it joins a GSI program, the end result could be a significant reduction in overall costs for workers’ compensation.

State Minimum Auto Liability Coverage is Inadequate

Sure, you’re a responsible driver. But is your state-minimum, bare bones auto insurance coverage really sufficient to cover your risks?

Yes, every state imposes a minimum on liability insurance coverage. This coverage not only protects you against having creditors forcibly seize your assets and land you in bankruptcy court; it also helps protect others around you, by ensuring that no matter what their medical issue or damages, there is enough liquidity on the table to make sure they are economically protected.

But state minimums aren’t designed for most individuals, especially the affluent and do not provide them with the real protection they need. State legislatures must set liability minimums low enough so that insurance coverage is affordable even for poor families – so at least they’ll get something rather than drive completely uninsured. State minimums are not designed to provide really adequate protection for drivers who have assets or make a decent income and are those who are targets for legal action.

The Owner is At Risk

Remember, even if you lent your car to someone else for the weekend – if he or she crashes it, and causes damage, it’s you, as the car owner, who is ultimately responsible. Owners are first in line, ahead of drivers, when plaintiffs’ lawyers start looking to collect on damages not covered by auto insurance.

How Big Can Judgments Be?

Judgments for damages in auto accidents are very frequently $50,000 and over and can range into the millions. We looked at actual judgments obtained by just one small law firm in Las Vegas, Nevada, and found instances like these:

  • $200,000 in liability for just one accident involving a motorcycle.
  • $265,000 for a T-bone auto accident.
  • $300,000 for a leg injury to a pedestrian.
  • $750,000 for a rear end accident with injury.
  • $2,000,000 for another rear-end accident with serious injury.
  • 2,900,000 for a wrongful death claim.

Your state-mandated minimum of $15,000 to $100,000 per accident should cover most fenderbenders, but it is woefully inadequate for the real risk. If you are sued, and the plaintiff wins, you will be held responsible for the whole judgment over the amount of your coverage.

Asset Protection

If someone involved in an accident sues you and wins, he will receive a payment from your insurance company, up to the limit of coverage.  When the payment is inadequate, they may take additional action. They may sue to seize your personal assets – your bank account, your vehicles, property, business and even your home in some jurisdictions. They may also file to garnish your wages. The fallout could easily force you into bankruptcy – and severely disrupt your life.

If you have any kind of hard-earned assets that are at risk of creditor action, you may want to consider buying extra liability coverage. The more assets you have, the more likely you are to be targeted. After all, plaintiffs’ lawyers know that judgments are easier to collect from the affluent than the poor. But even middle class people have a lot to lose by carrying inadequate liability insurance coverage.

Liability Insurance

You may consider two kinds of insurance: additional liability insurance for your car, over and above the state-mandated minimum, and umbrella coverage, which helps protect your assets against losses from a wider variety of sources. This can be especially important for parents of teenagers who are risky drivers and who may drive someone else’s car, or have a party at the house while you and other adults are out of town. When a youngster leaves the party at your house after drinking, and has a wreck, you could be held liable.

To assess your exposure, sit down with a licensed insurance professional, your attorney, or both. It’s easy to tailor a remarkably affordable plan to provide more realistic protection against the actual risks of liability – but you have to do it before the accident.

  • Fill your gas tank. Many times, gas stations
    run out of fuel in the day or so before a storm. If you can’t fuel your
    vehicle, you can’t evacuate. And you may not be able to function.
  • Get a battery-operated radio. Don’t
    count on cell phones working for a number of days after a storm.
  • You may be without power for as long as two
    weeks and sometimes longer. Keep nonperishables, batteries and flashlights.
  • Keep your generator outdoors. Every year, people
    die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they moved their generator indoors
    to protect it from theft.
  • Understand your generator’s capacity. Generators
    have a limited load. This is especially important to know when you start up
    electrical items connected to the generator, because startups cause a spike in
    electrical demand.
  • Know your neighbors. Your neighbors may have a
    harder time preparing or evacuating from storms than you do, because of
    frailty, disability, young children, poverty or lack of reliable
  • Look out for family members of emergency
    responders. Police, fire department, National Guard members and medical
    personnel often have to concentrate on preparing for the mission, and have less
    time to attend to their own homes and families.
  • Know your community emergency management contacts.
    You can find an online listing at https://www.ready.gov/community-state-info
  • Don’t underestimate tropical storms. Just
    because it’s not a hurricane doesn’t mean it can’t do a lot of damage locally.
    Tropical storms can dump as much rain as a hurricane.
  • By understanding these guidelines, you can be an asset to
    your community in the event of a hurricane, instead of a drain on emergency
    resources. You will also have an easier time getting reimbursed by your
    insurance company for any damage done, and be doing your part to keep overall
    hurricane insurance premiums down.

    Know When to File an Auto Insurance Claim

    If your car has become damaged in an accident, through vandalism or from another cause, filing a claim with your auto insurance company isn’t always the best course of action. For example, if your deductible is more than the cost of the damage, it’s a good idea to pay for the repairs yourself and not report the claim. Each time you do decide to file, even if the damage is less than your deductible, the report goes on your insurance record. Although small claims don’t affect your individual premium, insurance companies use information from policyholders to establish the overall premium rates they charge their entire customer base. The more accidents reported, the higher the premium rates the company charges.

    Legally, you aren’t required to report an accident to your insurance company. The reason your company requests that you report every accident is so that it can protect itself against possible fraudulent claims. Documenting each accident helps an insurer spot a current claim for damages that really happened in an earlier accident.

    If you already have a speeding ticket on your record, and your car is damaged at a later time, you have another reason to think twice about filing a claim with your insurer. That’s because in some states, if you file a claim for an at-fault accident and you have been previously ticketed, you may not be able to renew your auto insurance policy.

    However, if there’s another car involved in the accident, or someone else in the car with you at the time, it’s important to report the accident. You never know if the passenger or other driver will file a claim on your insurance, and you should report the accident to make sure that your side of the story is documented with both the police and your insurer.

    Another reason to report an auto accident involving another car or passengers is that injuries are not always immediately apparent. Your carrier should have a report on file in the event you, or someone else involved in the accident, sustain injuries that show up the next day and which require medical treatment.

    While you should always consider carefully before you file an auto accident claim, you should never stockpile comprehensive claims. It may seem logical to file a number of small damage claims together; however, insurers watch for excessive repair estimates for comprehensive claims and your carrier may question the validity of the claim.

    There is a growing trend toward nonrenewals and tighter restrictions on what is covered across the industry. Save your car insurance for expensive damage, and plan ahead so you can pay for the smaller repairs yourself.

    Reduce the Dangers of Driving in the Dark

    With winter’s arrival, most people find themselves spending more time driving in the dark with decreased visibility. While you can’t change the fact that there are fewer daylight hours, you don’t have to be hampered by poor visibility.

    Protect your night vision by wearing a hat and sunglasses during the day when exposed to bright sunlight. The retina in the human eye contains photoreceptors, which have pigments that change shape when struck by light. This change process is called “bleaching.” Very bright light, like sunlight, may bleach so many of the pigments in a photoreceptor that it cannot respond to any other visual stimuli for a while, which means your eyes can have trouble adjusting to the dark. The longer your eyes are exposed to the sun, the worse your night vision gets.

    Consider taking a daily multi-vitamin to enhance your vision. In numerous studies and clinical trials antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, and E, have been linked with eye health. They help to maintain healthy cells and tissues in the eye.

    There also are things you can do to your car, and steps you can take while driving at night, to enhance visibility-

    ·   Clean your windshield at least once a week. Light is refracted through a dirty windshield, which intensifies glare. In addition, a clean windshield will have less reflection. Wash your headlights as well. Even a thin layer of grime can reduce the light headlights emit by as much as 90%.

    ·   Dim the dash lights. The dimmer the light inside the car, the better you can see outside. Your instrument panel should just be bright enough for the instruments to be readable.

    ·   Adjust your outer (side view) mirrors. Sit in the driver’s seat, and tilt your head until it rests against the window. Adjust the driver’s side outboard mirror until you can see the rear fender at the edge of the glass. Then tilt your head to the right until it’s at the center of the car. Adjust the passenger side outboard mirror until you can see the rear fender at the edge of the glass. These adjustments will reduce blind spots, and prevent the bright spots in trailing cars’ headlights from shining directly into your eyes. 

    ·   Avert your eyes away from the lights of oncoming cars. When oncoming headlights shine into your eyes, look at the white line marking the edge of the pavement.

    ·   Fill your gas tank with one eye closed. This helps you recover from “flash blindness,” the condition that results when a few seconds of brightness temporarily interfere with your night vision. Closing one eye preserves night vision in that eye, and you can use it when you resume driving while your other eye adjusts to seeing in the dark.

    Though nighttime driving is a time of reduced visibility, you can make it a safe driving time by following these suggestions.

    Protect Your Business with Building and Equipment Insurance

    If you are a business owner, you have undoubtedly heard of building and equipment insurance, which covers your business’ buildings and all personal property under the care or control of your business.  Even so, you may not yet be aware of everything else this insurance covers, and just how important it can be to you and to your business.

    For instance, did you know that building and equipment insurance covers additions, alterations, and even repairs to your buildings?  This type of insurance also covers items and equipment used to maintain your business’ property.

    Giving this type of coverage a second thought now?  You should.  Building and equipment insurance also provides coverage for furniture, fixtures, equipment and machinery; stock; all other personal property you and your business own and use in the business; labor, parts, or service by your business on other’s property; and improvements you make to the building you or your business lease.

    Similar to the personal property you own, the coverage also includes personal property inside and outside your business’ buildings, or in vehicles within 100 feet of your buildings.  And, interestingly enough, payment for damages done to personal property owned by others goes to the account of the property owner and not to the actual insured business owner.

    There are a few types of property excluded from this coverage, and you should be aware of them.  The types of property excluded from this coverage include: waterborne personal property; animals (in most circumstances); automobiles for sale; bridges, roads, walks or other paved surfaces; contraband; costs for excavations; certain foundations; land, water, growing crops, or lawns; money; piers, wharves, or docks; retaining walls that are not part of the building; and underground pipes, flues, or drains.

    However, you can obtain additional coverage for your business’ outdoor property, valuable papers and records, the personal property or effects of others, personal property at newly acquired buildings, property temporarily off-premises, and newly built or acquired buildings.  Keep in mind, though, that several of the categories may have limitations about which you need to be educated.

    10 Essential Hurricane Claim Tips

    Hurricane Irene’s destruction has left many people facing extensive property damage. Individuals who must file a claim have several things to do. First, make any emergency repairs that are necessary to prevent further damage. Don’t attempt any non-emergency repairs until an insurance adjuster is able to assess the property. Be sure to take clear photos of the damage. Next, contact an individual insurance agent. If the number was lost in the damage, consult the Insurance Information Institute’s list of claim phone numbers for various insurance companies. Before contacting an agent, consider the following common questions and valuable claim tips.

    1. What To Do After Filing A Claim
    The most important thing to do is prevent further damage. Make sure property is secure, board broken windows, dry carpets and board damaged roofs. Don’t attempt any major non-emergency repairs until an adjuster can see the damage. Keep receipts for emergency repair supplies and temporary accommodations.

    2. How To Speed Up The Claims Process
    Keep in mind that priority is given to the most severe cases after a disaster. Larger claims are settled in steps. Try these following tips to help make the claims process quicker:

    •Get at least two repair estimates for the adjuster to review.
    •Take pictures of the damage. If photos of the property before the damage are available, make copies of them.
    •Construct a list of all damaged property. Include a description, original cost, age, purchase location and estimated replacement cost of each item. If receipts are available for any of these items, make copies of them.

    3. What To Do If The Property Is Uninhabitable
    Remember that most homeowners policies cover extra living expenses resulting from hurricane damage. As long as the policy has provisions for hurricane damage, the company should provide reimbursement for living expenses. If unsure whether this is included, consult the policy to review the exact provisions. Remember to keep all costs in line with regular living expenses.

    4. Food Spoilage Due To Power Outages
    Unfortunately, most policies don’t cover spoiled food. However, some companies provide limited coverage for food that spoils during a power outage. The amount is usually between $250 and $500.

    5. Coverage For Fallen Trees
    Unless a tree damages a house, fence or garage, there is no coverage for damage to trees resulting from perils of weather.

    6. Damage From Power Surges
    When the power comes back on after an outage, surges often damage electronics or other equipment. Most insurance policies have a provision for sudden or accidental damage from artificially generated electrical currents. This excludes computer chips, transistors and some similar items. This means televisions and computers are excluded.

    7. Claim Checks That Aren’t Enough
    It’s important to understand whether cash value or replacement costs are awarded. If the amount received is lower than expected, consult an agent to discuss individual provisions.

    8. When To Expect A Check
    After the adjuster visits and assesses the damage, he or she completes the paperwork for processing. Once it has been processed, the carrier issues a check to the claimant. The turnaround time for receiving a check varies depending on how many claims are being processed. Some companies provide status reports for claim progress. If the check is slow to arrive, call an agent to see if the company has any progress reports on the claim.

    9. Understanding The Difference Between Replacement & Cash Value
    Replacement cost is the amount it costs to replace or repair an insured item today. It doesn’t cover the full original value of the item. The only limits are based on the amount of coverage purchased. Cash value policies pay for the cost of replacement of the item minus depreciation.

    10. What “Underinsured” Individuals Should Do
    Sometimes an agent tells an individual that they don’t have enough insurance. This is usually because homeowners don’t review their coverage regularly. Adding a room or making another change can have a significant impact on a policy. Be sure to contact an agent when any improvement or change is made to the home.

    Keep in mind that agents are busy. If a copy of the policy is available, try to find the answers in the document before making a call. However, if there are questions that the policy provides unclear answers about, be sure to contact an agent. It’s important to file hurricane claims as quickly as possible.

    Preventing Violence Before It Happens Through Pre-Employment Screening

    Violence in the workplace has become an increasingly more common occurrence. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its 2004 report entitled Fatal Occupational Injuries by Event or Exposure, 1998-2003, there were 631 documented workplace homicides in 2003. Workplace homicides are the second leading cause of death in the workplace and they make up 16% of all occupational fatalities.

    With statistics like these, it is the duty of every employer to make violence prevention a number one priority. Avoiding potential violence should begin with the hiring process. This is the company’s opportunity to weed out any violent individuals before they get a foothold in the workplace.

    The pre-employment screening process begins with the application. If an applicant omits information or there are gaps of time in the area of job history, the applicant should be instructed to fill in the missing information. If the applicant cannot provide the information, the employer needs to determine when and if it can be provided, note it on the application and then follow through with getting the information if the person selected is to be given an employment offer. Ensure that all of an applicant’s information is on hand before any offer is made.

    The interviewer will have the most significant opportunity to assess the applicant’s stability. Begin with the person’s overall physical appearance and grooming. Is it interview appropriate? The next level of assessment involves body language and eye contact. While the applicant is speaking, are they looking you in the eye while answering questions in a relaxed manner? What is your own comfort level during the interview? What is the applicant’s response level to questions? Do they answer the questions asked or are they evasive? Do they provide too little information or do they go out of their way to give an elaborate explanation? By discussing what an applicant liked or disliked about the tasks associated with different jobs they held and why they left those jobs, an interviewer can often get a sense of possible aggression towards the company that if pushed far enough can manifest itself in workplace violence.

    If the applicant seems acceptable, then the next step is to do a thorough background check. This is the major area where most companies fall short in the evaluation process. If you do not get an immediate response from a past employer or a reference, follow up until you do. Don’t assume that the failure is due to being too busy to respond. Sometimes the lack of response is avoidance. It is not unheard of for one company to pass a problem employee off on another. To investigate further, in addition to the telephone background check, you can also examine court records, credit reports and driving records.  However be advised that you need a signed release from the applicant to conduct this type of background screening. Your corporate counsel should be your consultant in the development of any pre-employment screening methodologies to be sure they do not violate existing laws.

    Many companies also conduct drug testing as part of their pre-employment screening process. Drug testing identifies individuals who have the potential to become problem employees.  It is easier to eliminate individuals on the basis of failing a drug test prior to employment then it is to terminate them once they have been employed. While drug testing doesn’t eliminate all potential problem employees, it does reduce their number.

    No matter what procedures you use to screen applicants, the important thing to remember is that you must follow through. If you only make a half-hearted attempt, it’s the equivalent of no attempt at all. 

    Understanding Material Safety Data Sheets Can Save You from Injury

    For many workers, handling hazardous chemicals is part of their daily routine. However, no matter how routine, you should never let your guard down when it comes to handling chemicals properly. Each chemical has its own set of hazards, which means the recommended emergency procedures for each chemical are different. If you are going to handle chemicals safely, you should be aware of the manufacturer’s recommended handling and storage procedures, the personal protective equipment you will need when handling, and the actions to take in the event of a chemical spill or leak.

    You can find this information on the “Material Safety Data Sheet” (MSDS), which must be sent from the manufacturer/supplier along with the chemical. OSHA requires all chemical manufacturers/suppliers to provide customers with MSDS’s that answer the questions listed above. However, OSHA does not require that MSDS’s be written in a standard format and most are written in technical language, which can be difficult to understand.

    Realizing the need for standardization, The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Chemical Manufacturers Association developed a standard format for MSDS’s. While its use is voluntary, many chemical manufacturers/suppliers have already adopted this format. The information provided by this format is broken down into the following sections:

    Section 1 lists the manufacturer’s name, address and telephone number, the product name, the generic names for the chemical, the commonly used industry name and possibly, an emergency telephone number.

    Section 2 provides information on the chemical’s ingredients. OSHA requires that all hazardous components be listed on the MSDS. Non-hazardous ingredients are usually included too if helpful in determining how to use and store the chemical.

    Section 3 identifies the hazards of the material. This section is divided into two sub-sections. The first sub-section provides an overview and the second sub-section discusses the potential health effects of the chemical.

    Section 4 describes basic first aid procedures to be used by a worker with no specific training in first aid. Instructions are provided for each type of potential exposure.

    Sections 5 and 6 provide information, precautions and instructions to fight fires caused by the material, including hazards the material presents when burned and what methods can be used to extinguish flames.

    Section 7 addresses risk prevention when working with the material, including proper storage procedures.

    Section 8 discusses controls and protective equipment.

    Section 9 describes the physical and chemical properties of the material.

    Section 10 contains information on stability and reactivity of the chemical including whether the chemical has the potential to react with another substance due to oxidation, heat, decomposition or polymerization.

    Sections 11 through 13 outline toxological and ecological information, including how to dispose of the chemical.

    Sections 14 through 16 explain methods to transport the chemical.

    Material Safety Data Sheets are important tools when working with hazardous chemicals. Of course, a tool is only effective if you understand how to use it. Be sure you know where the MSDS’s are kept for the chemicals you use and familiarize yourself with them. And most importantly, know where you can find the emergency information on all of the MSDS’s for chemicals in your work area.

    Electronic Delivery of your Insurance Policy

    Whether or not you have already received any of your policies via email in recent years, you will see more and more of your insurance documents delivered electronically, in most cases in a PDF file format. As insurance companies update their policy delivery procedures, they are updating their technology so that policies are delivered electronically and most have already implemented this. There are several different methods of electronic delivery and the best news is you are getting your policy faster than ever.

    The current trend of electronic delivery is through an email alert advising you of a new policy, a renewal or any updates. You would then log into your account online and retrieve your documents. Another method is that some companies are delivering this to the insurance agency, then the agency is turning around and delivering this to you as an email attachment. If you ever have a problem with retrieving your documents, you should immediately contact your agency. If you don’t already receive your policy electronically, it may be available on demand from your agency, and the best thing to do is to call your agency and inquire if the policy can be delivered electronically. Finally, some carriers give you the option; you can either go on their website to find out what the procedures are, or you can contact your agency.

    When you get your policy, the best options are to either save your policy on your computer or save it into an online cloud file account. If you have a backup service for your computer, saving on your computer may be fine. If you don’t have a backup service, you may want to consider getting a Google Docs, a Box.com or Dropbox account. Many online document storage services offer free accounts for the first so many gigabytes of storage. In addition, since many companies are giving you access online to these accounts, as long as you have your user name and password you should have access to your policy. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to download them and save these on your system.

    Online document delivery has been the trend for delivery in recent years for banking, financial brokerages, and delivery of billing statements and is now the trend for the delivery of insurance documents. While the available technology is the driving force behind this, it is also a green business practice that saves paper and energy. After twenty years since the internet has become commercialized, we continue to see more and more utilization of the benefits that it provides.

    Wise Up When It Comes to Auto Theft

    In 2006, almost 1.2 million vehicles were reported stolen in the United States, according to the annual Hot Wheels study from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The 1995 Honda Civic topped the most-stolen-vehicle list, followed by the 1991 Honda Accord. Car thieves continue to prefer imports to domestic brands, and vehicles that are 10 or more model years old over newer models. That’s because these cars have been consistent top sellers for many years and some of their parts are interchangeable. Thieves steal these cars for their parts.

    Anyone can be a potential car theft victim. Since just 59% of stolen vehicles were recovered, according to the study, all car owners have a strong motivation to do what they can to protect their vehicles. To help consumers lessen their risk of auto theft, the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Insurance Information Institute have joined forces to create the “Wiser Drivers Wise Up” program. Here are some of the tips from this program:

    ·   Don’t rely solely on manufacturer-installed vehicle theft protection. Experienced thieves can disable these devices, as well as unlock a Club and other such anti-theft deterrents. Aftermarket vehicle anti-theft systems are usually more sophisticated and are worth paying a professional to install.

    ·    Don’t think your old clunker is safer than a new model. It is also a myth that a luxury sedan is more attractive to thieves than a less expensive model. Older vehicles are usually stolen for their parts, which are no longer being manufactured; newer cars are stolen for their popularity.

    ·    If your car is stolen, contact the police immediately, preferably while still at the scene of the crime. Speed is essential to recovering stolen cars, since any delay means your car is more likely to be in a chop shop or driven out of town. In addition to knowing the make, color and model of your car, you should also know the license plate number and vehicle identification number (VIN). Keep a copy of these identifying numbers and your insurance card in your wallet, and keep a photocopy of your registration and insurance card at home, so you can provide information quickly to both law enforcement and insurance claims agents.

    ·    Don’t assume your insurance covers you for all the costs associated with having a vehicle stolen. Review your policy to see if you are covered for a replacement rental car after a theft, and if there’s a waiting period before you’re allowed to rent a car. Many people waive the rental car coverage, even though it costs only a few dollars a month.

    ·    Make sure you have roadside assistance. Your insurance company will likely offer this for a few dollars per term, or you can go through an outside company such as AAA or even your automaker. Be sure you understand the terms of the coverage.

    ·    Don’t overlook simple theft deterrents. Park in well-lit areas. If you park in a lot, resist the temptation to park near the exit, because it makes your vehicle a more likely target for thieves. According to the FBI, more than one-third of all vehicle thefts occur at a home or residence. Always lock your car, even in your own driveway.

    Following these simple tips can help you avoid being an auto-theft victim, and minimize your damages and inconvenience in the event that you are one.

    What You Need to Know About Auto Body Repairs

    According to the Council of Better Business Bureaus, consumers must be just as cautious about checking the credentials of the collision repair centers that fix their cars as they are when choosing contractors for home repairs. That’s because with more than 35,000 auto body repair shops nationwide, there are a lot of choices.

    And, as is typical with commercial ventures, the supply of repair shops is a result of the huge demand for their services. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s most recent statistics, approximately 6 million reported non-fatal motor vehicle crashes occurred in 2005. Most of these vehicles ended up at a collision center, where the average repair bill was $2,200 to $2,300 and where 80% to 92% of the work involved auto insurance claims.

    Statistics like these indicate you are likely to become involved in an auto accident and hence need vehicle repairs at some time during your driving life. If and when this does happen to you, how should you proceed?

    1.   Never drive a vehicle after an accident. It could be unsafe for you or others until you know the extent of the damages and deal with them.

    2.    Always insist on professional body repairs. This will keep you and your passengers safe, and preserve the value of your car.

    3.    Take your car to be inspected at the auto body shop you feel most comfortable with. Your insurance company may ask you to take your car to its drive-in claims center before it is repaired. However, you can take the car to your own body shop and ask the insurance company to inspect it there.

    4.    Get as many estimates as you feel necessary. Keep in mind that you aren’t legally required to get more than one estimate or appraisal.

    5.    Use the body shop of your choice for the repairs. Your insurance company may offer suggestions, but it cannot require you to use a particular shop.

    6.    Have the body shop explain the charges. Differences in repair estimates are common. A lower estimate may not include all of the necessary parts or labor. Be sure you are getting all of the repairs necessary to restore the car to proper working condition.

    7.    Insist on original equipment parts, if that is what you feel comfortable with. The insurance company may want to use replacement parts as opposed to original equipment. Generally, there is little or no difference between the two except for price.

    8.    Choose a body shop that utilizes the most current equipment and I-CAR and/or ASE certified technicians.

    9.    Ask the body shop about its warranty coverage on the repairs it makes.

    10.   Ask the body shop personnel if they will help negotiate your claim with the insurance company.

    11.   Request an explanation of any hidden damage the body shop finds, and immediately report it to your insurance company.

    The above tips can help you cope with the auto accident and repair experience as economically-and painlessly-as possible.

    Certificates of Insurance – A Prudent Means to Avoid Costly Claims

    More and more companies are hiring independent contractors to handle not only administrative matters, such as benefits and human resources, but also sales and distribution. With this delegation of authority to third-party suppliers comes less direct control over these operations, and greater becomes the need for clients to demand that vendors provide them with timely Certificates of Insurance (COI).

    The COI proves that the insured (the third party) has purchased the insurance coverages as required by the outsourcing client. But, the COI also states that the holder of the certificate has no legal right to be covered by the insurance described in the COI, nor does it amend, extend or alter the represented coverage. The COI only shows that the outside contractor has the insurance coverage as explained on the certificate. This protects the business that has contracted with the third party against liability for negligence caused by the independent contractor up to the limits of the policy.

    It is the responsibility of the independent contractor to provide the COI to the client that has hired the firm. Usually a COI is prepared by an agent/broker with a copy sent to the insurance company and the client for whom the third party has contracted to perform certain functions.

    The COI contains the name of the insured, the name of the insurance companies issuing the policies as stated on the COI, what specific coverages are contained in the insurance policies issued to the insured, and various descriptions of normal policy terms, exclusions and conditions.

    Most often COIs are obtained for commercial general liability to provide protection from liability arising out of the insured’s premises or operations, products and completed operations. Usually, a general form will provide broad, standardized coverage terms. In cases, where the coverage is more complex and of a higher risk, manuscript forms of a COI can be written specifically by or for an insurance company. These manuscript COIs should be reviewed carefully for the scope of coverage being provided.

    There are two types of general liability forms — claims-made and occurrence. The trigger that compels the policy to respond is the main difference between the two forms. In the occurrence policy, occurrences are covered that take place during the policy period, no matter when a claim is reported. A claims-made policy requires that the occurrence take place during the policy period and the claim be reported during the policy period. Most COIs use the occurrence form for all independent contractors as claims-made policies limit coverage.

    But simply having a COI in hand does not always mean that the independent contractor has the insurance coverage. A prudent practice is to have a system to audit, review and correct the certificates to reflect the provisions in the contracts. Some clients establish an auditing program in house, while others have the insurance agent or broker manage the program as part of their fee arrangement. This cost depends greatly on the workload.

    The consequences of not monitoring COIs of a third party can be costly for the firm that hired the contractor. Consider this sobering example. A business hired an independent contractor to provide distribution service for the company. An employee of the vendor had a serious car accident, and soon afterwards, the contractor ceased business. When the employee began submitting workers’ compensation claims, there was no coverage — the contractor had never maintained that insurance. Unfortunately, the company had not insisted on a COI from the independent contractor to verify this coverage. Casting about for payment of the claim, the court ruled that the vendor’s employee was a statutory employee of the company that hired the contractor. The workers’ compensation claims have totaled more than $100,000 with more to come.

    This is just one of many chilling cases of companies that have been caught with unexpected losses that came from not requiring proper COIs from independent contractors and auditing them to make sure they remain current and reflect the actual coverages held by the insured.

    Boating and Your Money

    When it comes to boating, the only surprises you want are unexpected whale sightings. But we all know the unexpected happens – and that’s why we have boating insurance. But boating insurance doesn’t – and shouldn’t – protect you from everything. To avoid getting hit with unexpected bills and expenses, you have got to take initiative and understand your boat and your policy.

    • Keep policies current. That means you need to update your boat insurance policy to account for any refitting or major upgrades. The rule of thumb: If your upgrade or refit materially changes the market value of the boat, you need to upgrade your policy to reflect the replacement value of the boat. If you lost the whole boat, and everything in it, what’s the true replacement value?  Tip: Insurers take account of depreciation. Unless you keep careful records documenting every new upgrade or piece of personal property on the boat, they will assume everything is the same age as the boat itself. That’s tough when you just put a brand new engine on a 20-year old boat. They’ll pay for a 20 year old engine – and you won’t be made whole in the event of a total loss.

    For example: Many yacht owners have taken to installing high end home theater or AV systems in their boats. These installations can run tens of thousands of dollars and more – and are a frequent target for thieves. If you install an A/V system into your boat, and it gets ripped off, you will get a check for the verifiable damage to the boat – but not for the stolen A/V equipment, unless you get your policy adjusted so that the new system is covered.

    • Take care of the boat. Maintenance is a part of boat ownership. Maintenance costs, including periodic trips to drydock for a thorough hull scraping, should be figured into your overall cost projections. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine.

    You’d think people shouldn’t have to be told anymore, but boat owners frequently ask things of their boat engines that they’d never expect their cars to do. Like operate leak free even though the seals have dried out from weeks or months of disuse. Basic maintenance tasks like changing engine oil once in a while, and being sure to crank that motor up on a regular basis to keep fluids moving through the hoses and around the metal parts go a long way to reducing overall boat ownership costs, and preventing major repairs and the replacement of entire engines.

    • Store the boat properly. When you pull the boat out of the water, tilt the bow upwards a little, and remove the drain plug to allow any water that gets past your covers, if any, to drain right out of the boat.
    • Don’t forget your fishing gear. Many fishermen – professional and recreational – will buy a boat, insure it, and then spend thousands on tackle, mounts, swivels, chairs and the latest gee-whiz sonar fish locator system. If something happens to the boat, and you don’t contact the carrier and add that gear to your policy, it’s not covered.
    • Keep an inventory. Create a list of everything of value on the boat, by serial number. Photograph everything.  Keep your receipts. Hint: Don’t keep your receipts and inventory on the boat.
    • Document incidents. Take photos of any damage at the scene, as soon as possible.

    Remember, boat insurance is structured differently than auto insurance. Where auto insurance is designed to pay the full replacement value of a given make and model car, with a given amount of miles on it, boating insurance is much more variable. There’s nothing as reliable as a Blue Book to guide boat insurance adjusters, and the market is much less liquid. As a result, documentation is even more important for boat insurance than it is for auto insurance. Read and understand the policy, what it covers, what it doesn’t cover, and ensure any changes to your boat’s value or any additional property on the boat is documented. 

    Good Management Lowers Premiums

    How do insurance companies measure good management? And, how does this measurement affect policy premiums?

    Insurance companies judge management many ways, including attitude toward safety (cooperation with risk personnel), financially (credit checks), superficially (housekeeping, deferred maintenance), and in depth systems analysis (employee selection process). Positive results earn schedule credits, which reduce premiums.

    Schedule credits enable insurance companies to reward those conscientious managements that have a long-term commitment to reduce losses. The insurance company wants to partner with risk-avoiding management, so they lower premiums to attract these risks.

    Insurance companies use diagnostic tools to measure the quality of management. Accounting measurements, physical property surveys, human resource surveys, psychological tools and, of course, loss history data combine to paint an overall management picture.

    Accounting measurements include reviewing financial statements, credit reports, tax forms, and management control systems. Is everything up to date? Do all the data agree for an easy audit trail? Is the company candid about finances?

    Physical risk surveys include a report on management results. An untidy workplace suggests lazy management or an undisciplined workforce. Neither is good for business or loss prevention. If in-house automobile maintenance facilities are not kept neat, management attitude towards maintaining vehicles properly is questioned.

    Neat, orderly premises imply pride in ownership and professional management. Deferred maintenance and chaos suggest either poor management, the beginnings of bad credit or absentee, uncommitted ownership.

    Sincere interest in loss control surveys, suggestions and recommendations indicates cooperation. Safety is a function of cooperative efforts. Taking corrective actions when asked, keeping OSHA logs up to date, knowledgeable responses to claims questions and having safety equipment on hand and up to date all indicate a safety culture appreciated by insurance companies.

    How does the company handle employee recruitment and training, particularly drivers? If this system qualifies employees in terms of knowledge, skill sets and attitude, more appropriate employees will be selected. The insurance company wants evidence of ongoing training for job-specific skills and safety.

    The psychology of risk management involves assessing the company’s approach towards safety and loss control. Cooperation, responsiveness to recommendations, forthrightness in interviews, openness to inspections, commitment to safety and good record keeping contribute to management attitude.

    The company interested in long-term profitability does not skimp on loss control or maintenance. Easily administered systems remind employees and supervisors of their safety culture.

    All these data are collected and reviewed to determine the management input to insurance premium rating: schedule credits. These credits must be rationalized by the underwriter. Schedule credits can impact premiums up to 25%. Good management pays well.

    Schedule credits are earned by well-managed, safety-conscious companies. Unfortunately, poorly managed businesses earn debits, increases in premium, the same way.

    Take a look around your business today and think about how you can earn a few more credits. And remember, we’re here to help too. 

    Tips to Prevent Sprains and Strains At Work

    Many jobs require lifting and pushing in one form or another as part of the routine job description. Employees that frequently lift or push objects need to be aware that lifting, pushing, and over reaching can cause strains and sprains. Such injuries typically affect the back, arms, and shoulders and are caused by improper handling techniques. If your job requires you to push, pull or lift during the day, make sure you know how to perform these activities properly.

    The first issue to keep in mind is that most strains and sprains happen because people lift objects that weigh too much. Before lifting anything, size up the load to determine if you have the physical strength to lift without straining. If you don’t possess the physical capability, you can either break it down into smaller loads, if applicable, or seek help from a co-worker. If you use carts or hand trucks, be sure they are in good operating condition. These devices can put additional strain on your back if they don’t work correctly or if you overload them.

    If it is within your physical capability to lift the load, then be sure that you use the correct procedure. Stand close to the object. Then squat down and bend your knees, not your back. Grip the object firmly and lift slowly. As you lift, straighten your legs until you are standing erect. Carry the load close to your body near your waist. Never lift the object above your shoulders. If you have to turn while lifting, point your feet in the direction you’ll be heading; don’t twist your back.

    If you must push or pull a load, bend your knees and use your legs and the weight of your body to move it. Take small steps and keep your stomach muscles tightened. You should lean slightly into the load if you are pushing, and lean slightly out if pulling. Note that it’s always better for your body if you can push rather than pull an object.

    Repeatedly lifting heavy objects is the most common cause of strains and sprains. However, injuries can also happen as a result of lifting moderate loads in awkward positions or remaining in a bent-over or twisted position for long periods of time. Remember, the further the load is from your body, the greater strain placed on your back. You should always attempt to position any load you are carrying at waist level. Keep your body as close to the work area as is safely possible. And most importantly, never overestimate your physical ability to lift or carry an object.

    Understanding How Bicycles Are Insured

    When the warm weather arrives, many bike owners dust off their bicycles and hit the road. Whether bike owners plan to participate in competitions or just take a ride around the block with the family, it is important for them to understand the rules of the road. It is also important to be adequately insured.

    Insuring A Bicycle
    Bicycles vary greatly in price these days. A simple model may cost several hundred dollars, and a racing bike may cost several thousand dollars. Personal property provisions in a homeowners or renters policy cover bicycles. This means bikes that are damaged or stolen are usually covered. Bikes stolen from cars are also covered under many policies. For personal property coverage, there are two options: Replacement cost coverage and actual cash value.

    Replacement Cost Coverage
    This type of insurance provides reimbursement for the cost of replacing a bicycle with a similar one at the current cost. Replacement cost coverage usually costs about 10 percent more than its alternative. However, it is still a wise investment.

    Actual Cash Value
    This option provides reimbursement for the actual value of the bicycle at its current age. This means a bicycle that is five years old would be valued at the cost of a comparable product. However, depreciation for the bike’s age would be calculated and deducted from that value.

    Liability protection is also granted in a homeowners or renters policy, so harm caused to others on their property will be covered. For example, if a policyholder crashes into a person on that person’s property and causes injuries, the policyholder’s insurance company will cover up to a specific dollar amount. It is important for all policyholders to know what their maximum coverage amount per incident is.

    Most people are insured for an amount between $300,000 and $500,000. However, some people purchase umbrella policies to expand that amount. The umbrella policy’s benefits kick in when the homeowners policy is maxed out. There is also no-fault medical coverage on a homeowners policy. This coverage usually ranges between $1,000 and $5,000. In the event of an injury, the injured party can simply submit a medical claim to the policyholder’s insurance company for hospital bills. Keeping a policy updated is the best way to avoid an expensive lawsuit.

    After purchasing a new bicycle, save the receipt. Call an agent immediately to notify him or her about the new purchase. Keep in mind that helmets, pumps, saddle bags, lights and special clothing should be included on insurance. People who own very expensive bicycles should purchase endorsements for their renters or homeowners policies. Many insurers have special endorsements for sporting equipment, and some even have specific endorsements for bicycles.

    Insurance is certainly one of the most important aspects of bicycle ownership. However, safety is equally crucial. To stay safe on the road this year, consider the following tips:

    – Always wear a helmet.
    – Make sure the bike fits properly and does not have any unsecured parts.
    – Ride on the correct side of the road, watch for traffic and use hand signals.
    – Learn and follow all the rules of the road.
    – Always stay alert, and be aware of surroundings at all times.
    – Avoid wearing headphones or a cellular headset while riding.
    – If necessary, take safety classes before hitting the road.
    – Be more visible by wearing bright colors, using lights and wearing reflective gear after dark.

    Take Steps to Protect Your Valuables

    If you’re like most people, you own at least a handful of items that are extremely meaningful to you. Whether these objects hold financial or sentimental value, it’s important to protect your cherished treasures.

    From jewelry and silverware to antiques and art, countless valuables are stolen or destroyed each and every year. The FBI estimates that more than 6 billion home burglaries take place in the United States every year. And, according to the National Fire Protection Agency, a residential structure fire occurs every 82 seconds in America. These statistics are good reasons why you should take the appropriate steps to safeguard your valuables.

    Here are a few things you should consider when it comes to protecting your valuables from burglary, fire or another disaster:

    • Make a list. It can be difficult to remember all the things of value that you own, especially in the wake of a difficult situation, such as a burglary, house fire or other catastrophe. Therefore, one of the simplest yet most effective steps you can take to protect your valuables is to make a list of these items.

    The more detailed the list, the better. If any of your valuables have serial numbers, be sure to include that information. You also should include any identifying features of the object as well as information about the object’s value.

    Keep a copy of this list either in a locked fire safe or a safety deposit box. This way, in the unfortunate circumstance that your home is burglarized or damaged, you can refer to your list to determine which of your valuables have been stolen or destroyed.

    If you lose items in a house fire or burglary, it is your responsibility to prove loss to your insurance company. Providing the insurance company with a detailed written record of your valuables will increase the odds that your claim is processed fairly and quickly.

    • Take photos and videos. You also should keep photos and/or videos of your most valuable items. For insurance purposes, even a simple snapshot is sufficient. However, it may be easier to shoot an entire “home inventory” video. This type of video will allow you to account for all of your belongings. Remember to keep these photos and videos in a safe place-either in a locked fire safe or a safety deposit box.

    • Engrave your items. You also may consider using an electric engraving pen to engrave your name or an identifying number on all of your most valuable items. If law enforcement authorities find a thief in possession of these marked items, it will be much easier for them to prosecute the criminal and return the objects to you. Additionally, engraving your name on valuables may discourage a thief from stealing the objects in the first place because marked items are much more difficult to sell.

    • Invest in a safe. You may want to purchase a fire-resistant, combination safe where you can store some valuables, as well as information about your valuables. There are a wide variety of safes available on the market today. Depending on the features included, the price of safes can range anywhere from $150 to $2,000 and above. Although this may seem costly, a good safe could prove to be well worth the expense if it protects your valuables from theft or harm.

    Car Care Tips for Colder Temperatures

    With the winter season upon us, it is important to ensure that both you and your vehicle are road-ready and prepared for winter weather.  The first signs of car trouble often arrive with the first signs of winter. Sluggish performance, rough idling, and difficult starts are all potential warnings of problems that could get worse as the temperature drops.

    Here are some key tips to make sure your vehicle doesn’t leave you stranded in the dead of winter:

    Check your vehicle’s fluid levels. Maintaining a 50/50 mix of antifreeze will prevent your engine coolant from freezing as temperatures drop. Be sure your engine oil is ready for the season — when having the oil changed, remember that severe cold weather can require a switch to a different oil viscosity for better lubrication at lower temperatures. And don’t forget to check that your power steering, transmission and brake fluids are properly filled.

    Test electrical system.Lighting on long, dark nights, combined with cold starts and heater operation, increase electrical demand. While most modern batteries are sealed and cannot be filled, a charge test will ensure enough cranking power to start your engine as temperatures fall. Also check starter, alternator and drive belts to ensure your electrical system is up to the task.

    Examine braking system.Check hydraulic brake fluid to make sure it is clean and change it more than two years or 50,000 miles old. Ensure system components and the parking brake operate freely and safely.

    Ensure all lights are working.Winter driving also comes with shorter daylight hours — and a greater likelihood of at least some portion of your commute being driven in the dark — so it is important to check all vehicle lighting. Check not only your headlights, but your taillights, instrument lights, back up lights, turn signals, parking lights and brake lights. These lights are important not only because they help you to see, but also serve as a way to help you communicate clearly with other motorists.

    Keep an emergency kit.Motorists need to have supplies if they get stranded. Be sure to have a working flashlight, ice scraper, water, candy bar, kitty litter, shovel, blanket, fully charged cell phone, etc.

    Replace worn tires.Make sure tires are inflated, according to your owner’s manual, and have sufficient tread. Take a penny, insert it into the tire tread, and if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, consider a new set of tires.

    Install new windshield wipers.Don’t use your wipers to clear your windshield of frost – use a plastic ice scraper or your vehicle’s defrost button. Replace brittle or torn wipers.

    Is Your Intellectual Property At Risk?

    Intellectual property is the crown jewel of any business, no matter its size. That’s why R&D departments exist and also why companies incur great expense to obtain patents. In fact, the race to innovate has heated up dramatically. But as Tom Aeppel noted in an October 25, 2004 The Wall Street Journal article entitled “Patent Dispute Embroils Industries,” the growing drive to be first has also ushered in another phenomenon:

    “The number of U.S. patents issued annually has more than tripled over the last two decades to 187,017 in 2003 as companies try to distinguish themselves among other global competitors with new products or processes.  But patents are also the source of growing litigation. There were 1,553 patent-infringement lawsuits filed in 1993 in U.S. federal court, compared to 2,814 last year.”

    In the past, many businesses relied on the coverage provided under the advertising injury portion of their comprehensive general liability insurance to protect them if they were accused of violating intellectual property. The parameters of advertising injury in these polices included coverage for the unintentional acts of misappropriating advertising ideas, or the infringing upon copyright, title or slogan that occurred during the course of advertising goods, products, or services. However, since most companies’ activities go well beyond the scope of what could realistically be defined as advertising, the protection provided by commercial general liability is obviously too limited in this area to be of real value. Under the typical commercial general liability policy, infringement of intellectual property claims that resulted from activities other than advertising would not be covered. By the same token, intentional acts of infringement are also not covered.

    The gap between what is and what is not covered in terms of intellectual property infringement under commercial general liability presented a serious problem as competition increased. That’s why insurers developed a specialized type of coverage called Intellectual Property Insurance. This type of coverage has two forms. The most popular form is defense coverage. This is designed to underwrite both the cost of mounting a legal defense against an intellectual property infringement lawsuit and the cost of any settlements or judgments that result from it.

    The second type of coverage is called enforcement or pursuit coverage. This policy is for the party that has been wronged so that it can pursue anyone that has infringed upon its intellectual property. This type of coverage is especially appealing to a company that has a valuable patent, but may not be positioned in terms of its capital to exploit that patent’s potential as well as one of its larger competitors. Having this coverage safeguards the company’s intellectual property rights while it acquires the capital it needs and enables it to go after a competitor who violates those rights.

    Losing one’s intellectual property can mean the death knell in the current global economy. As companies find themselves having to compete both domestically and in emerging markets abroad, it’s clear that innovation is the only way to stay in front of the herd. If that’s the case, then it stands to reason that Intellectual Property Insurance is one more necessity for doing business in the new economy.

    Tips to Prevent and Combat Residential Electrical Fires

    Nearly every home in America has a powerful and primed source of fire at this very moment, and it’s called electricity. From overloaded outlets to dated or defective wiring, there’s likely to be at least one electrical fire hazard in some corner of your home.

    The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that faulty electrical wiring in residential homes cause over 40,000 fires each year. Over the last decade, defective electrical wiring has caused an average of 350 deaths per year.

    According to the National Electrical Safety Foundation, homeowners can use the following fire prevention tips to help create a fire-proof home electrical system:

    * Use child-proof outlets to prevent small children from sticking an object into the outlets.

    * Do periodic checks of all electrical cords, replacing any damaged or frayed ones, untangling knotted cords, and ensuring that none have been placed under carpets or rugs.

    * Never overload outlets or extension cords. Although not always present, it could be a sign of an overloaded circuit if your appliances aren’t working up to par, the television has a poor picture, the HVAC isn’t performing properly, and/or the lights are dimming on their own. You might also ask an electrician to tell you what the maximum capacities are for the circuits in your home. By knowing this, you can add up the wattage of all the electrical devices plugged into each circuit and be able to ensure that the total load for each circuit is below its maximum capacity.

    * Consider updating the entire electrical system with copper wiring in homes 40 or more years of age. Older homes with dated aluminum wiring are more prone to electrical fires than those with more fire-resistant copper wiring.

    * Use the proper wattage bulb for every light fixture and lamp in your home, ensuring that you never exceed the recommended wattage.

    * Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) can be installed to help protect against electrical fires caused by arc faults, which are simply electrical currents being discharged across a gap. Wire insulation that’s pinched, overheated wires, and improper electrical connections are common sources of arc faults.

    * Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) can be installed in your bathrooms, utility room, and kitchen to help protect your family from the risk of electrocution. GFCIs will detect any imbalance in electricity and shut down the electrical system.

    * Use a power surge protection device for your computer and other large electronics. Electrical devices plugged into a circuit that receives a power surge, or sudden rush of voltage, can be damaged beyond repair.

    Of course, despite all precautions, you still need to know what to do should an electrical fire start.

    For an electrical fire at a wall outlet, you can either turn off the main switch -or- if you can do it safely, immediately try to pull anything that’s plugged into the outlet out by pulling on the end of the cord furthest away from the outlet. CO2 fire extinguishers can be used for small electrical fires, but do remember never to use water on an electrical fire.

    In the event the electrical fire is large or otherwise uncontrolled, then you should evacuate the home and immediately alert the fire department that you have an electrical fire. It’s important that you tell the fire department if you suspect the fire could be electrical since they may be able to shut off the main power source and prevent it from spreading.

    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.

    Insurance Mistakes That Will Cause You to Lose Money

    Fear is an important motivator when it comes to buying insurance. We worry about what will happen to assets like cars or homes if they are involved in a disaster, so we buy insurance to help us maintain their financial integrity if something should happen.

    But in spite of the fact that insurance is designed for this purpose, sometimes it can’t give us the outcome we expect. That’s not because of something inherently wrong with the policy, but rather it is the result of human failure. When you bought your policy, you failed to take into consideration the level of coverage you really needed, and what you have isn’t sufficient to restore your assets to pre-disaster condition.

    That’s just one of the most common insurance mistakes that could end up costing you.

    Here are some others:

    ·   Thinking you’re saving money because you bought the cheapest policy you could find – Initially those low premiums will seem like a savings; but if the cost of an accident ends up being more than your policy coverage limits, the rest of the expense will be out-of-pocket. In addition, the other parties involved could sue you, and if you don’t have any coverage, you could end up losing a large part of your assets.

    ·   Failing to pay your premiums on time, or not at all – There could be a legitimate instance in which you don’t pay on time. However, when you don’t pay, your insurance company isn’t required to cover you. To avoid a disruption in coverage, set up automatic payments through your bank or insurer.

    ·   Making assumptions about what is covered – There are limitations to the coverage a homeowner’s or auto policy will provide for high-ticket items. You should never assume that all of your possessions are covered. What you can do is add extra coverage to your policy with an endorsement, which gives you higher limits on these types of items.

    ·   Overlooking the importance of umbrella liability policies – These policies got their name because they protect you from a financial downpour. They can be purchased separately or you can obtain one from the same company that insures your car or home. Buying from the insurer you already have usually entitles you to a premium discount on the liability coverage. Umbrella policies are usually sold in increments of a million dollars. Generally you would pay between $100 to $300 a year for the first million dollars worth of coverage and another $50 to $100 for each additional million. Keep in mind that when determining your premium, your insurer may take into consideration such factors as the number of traffic tickets you’ve received over the past few years, and your credit report.

    ·   Failing to inform your insurance agent about changes that could affect your coverage needs – If you’ve added on to your home, or purchased an expensive sound system, you need to contact your agent to see if the policy you have still meets your needs. Your agent can also find ways to help you save money on premiums that won’t affect the quality of your coverage such as enrolling in a driver safety class, installing a home security system, increasing your deductible, or taking advantage of multi-policy or good student discounts.

    Employee Crime Poses a Significant Threat to Small Companies

    Research conducted by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies revealed that over 36 percent of private companies have been victims of an employee theft within the past five years.  The dollar value of these thefts has averaged nearly $350,000. The researchers also pointed out that more companies are facing similar situations as they reduce staff and make budget cuts. Both actions motivate employees to steal funds, equipment and inventory. 

    The insurer reported in its 2005 Chubb Private Company Risk Survey, that 31 percent of companies polled plan to outsource some aspect of their operations, 21 percent plan to eliminate employees, and 20 percent plan to reduce or completely eliminate some employee benefits this year. These actions will be the catalyst for an increase in employee theft.

    Larger companies are better equipped to absorb the financial impact of employee crime, but theft of this magnitude could spell financial disaster for a smaller company. Interestingly, the insurer’s research shows that in spite of the possibility of losing everything due to employee theft, more than two-thirds of private companies don’t have crime insurance.

    To help small businesses identify and eliminate the potential for employee theft, Chubb is offering a booklet titled “A Guide to Workplace Fraud Prevention” on its website (www.chubb.com/businesses/chubb3331.html). KPMG Forensic developed the booklet. This unit of KPMG International is made up of employees with expertise in a variety of disciplines connected with fraud detection and investigation.

    One of the recommendations the authors make is to start by developing an ethical corporate culture. Have a written code of ethics that incorporate the firm’s key ethical values and be sure it is communicated to employees. Many companies also require an annual written statement from every employee that they understand the code and are in complete compliance with it.

    Along with the development of an ethics code, KPMG recommends that companies develop an effective fraud response plan that includes:

    ·   Limiting fraud opportunities by establishing strong internal controls and limiting overrides of those controls.

    ·   Managing pressures and incentives to steal that are inherent in the business process to the extent possible.

    ·   Focusing fraud detection and prevention efforts on risks where potential financial loss is the greatest or where cumulative losses from smaller frauds may be significant.

    ·   Fostering a strong “perception of detection” through proactive fraud identification, detection and investigation efforts.

    ·   Responding to identified fraud by consistently applying a “zero tolerance” policy.

    Timing Is Everything When It Comes to Car Buying

    You’ve been eyeing that new car for some time now, and finally your budget gives you the green light to go for it. So should you rush right out to the dealership? Only if you want to pay more than you should.

    That’s because finding the best car deal is affected by when you purchase.  For the optimum bargaining position, the first thing you need to pay attention to is the time of the month. Both the dealership and its sales personnel have to meet monthly quotas. Shopping just before the month is about to end gives you more leverage because sales figures will soon be turned in for the month. A salesperson that has a slow month will be eager to make a deal to give those figures a last minute boost.

    The second time factor that affects the deal is the season of the year. In early fall, dealerships are anticipating receiving inventories of next year’s models. To make room, they put remaining inventories of the current year’s models on sale. Typically this means taking significant markdowns so they can move the merchandise, which means big savings for you. The other seasonal advantage comes at Christmas time when shoppers are busy buying gifts, not cars. The light showroom traffic makes salespersons anxious to close the deal with a serious shopper.

    Even the weather comes into play when you are trying to negotiate. Bad weather is another time when a dealer’s showroom will be empty. That leaves more time for a salesperson to try and make you happy enough to leave the lot the proud owner of a new car.

    Of course, timing alone isn’t enough to put you in the driver’s seat without spending a fortune. You also need to do your homework and research prices before you set foot on any showroom floor. The Internet is the best place to find the information you need.

    There are three web sites that you can use to research the dealer cost (invoice price), and the manufacturers suggested retail price (MSRP), or list price of the model you’re interested in:

    1.   Kelley Blue Book (https://www.kbb.com)

    2.   Edmunds (https://www.edmunds.com)

    3.   MSN Autos (https://www.autos.msn.com/Default.aspx)

    Always start your negotiations from the invoice price, not the MSRP.

    You can also use Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds to find out what car buyers actually paid for the model in your region, based on your zip code. When you are using these sites to research a car model, don’t forget to use the “incentives” tab to see if the manufacturer is offering purchasers any kind of rebate. You can also find a full list of rebates on MSN Autos by logging on to https://autos.msn.com/home/rebates_all.aspx.

    New Study Surveys Teen Driving Attitudes

    Many teens do not take personal responsibility for safe driving and continue to engage in dangerous driving behaviors, this according to a new survey commissioned by Allstate Insurance. The survey also revealed that while the majority of teens polled were making New Year’s resolutions about getting better grades, or exercising more, only a small number of them were resolving to be safer drivers.

    Ninety percent of the teens surveyed said they hoped their friends would be safer on the road in 2008; but only 11 percent answered that “driving more safely” was one of their personal New Year’s resolutions. Thirty-four percent of teens surveyed said that they had been frightened as a passenger because the driver was being careless, but did not say anything to the driver.

    Fifty-seven percent of the respondents said they had driven more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, 22 percent admitted to having raced another vehicle, and 19 percent reported receiving a traffic ticket. Eighteen percent of the teens surveyed said they had been a passenger in a car being driven by a teen who was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

    While the teens that were polled were willing to break the law, they were not as agreeable to looking the other way when it came to their friends. Forty-one percent of the respondents wanted their friends to stop engaging in unsafe practices including driving without seatbelts and speeding. More than two-thirds of teens surveyed said they wanted their friends to avoid technology distractions, such as text messaging, talking on a cell phone, and scrolling through an MP3 player, while driving.

    There was an important positive outcome revealed by the Allstate survey; more teenagers are familiar with driver’s contracts, which means parents are taking a more active role in promoting driving safety. Approximately 30 percent of teens that have heard of these agreements have signed one. The researchers added that the dialogue opened by discussing the contract can be just as important as the signed agreement itself. However, if the contract is to be truly effective, that dialogue between parent and teen must be ongoing.

    When parents start a dialogue with their teenage drivers, they can influence their child’s behavior. The survey indicated that almost half of the teens polled are having ‘good conversations’ with their parents about the importance of safe driving. But one conversation is not enough. Such dialogue needs to be frequent and meaningful if it is to deter teen drivers from engaging in unsafe driving behaviors.