Connection Between Overtime and Safety Might Be Overstated

In a study documented in the February 2007 edition of the Journal Of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Harris Allen Jr. PhD, Thomas Slavin MS, MBA, and William Bunn III MD, JD, MPH, determined that despite research to the contrary, there is no evidence that long work hours cause across the board adverse outcomes for employees. The researchers did say that when weekly schedules hit 60+ hours, workers did report new injuries and health problems, but these were mostly attributable to factors like prior poor health rather than to the long hours themselves.

The study was conducted by comparing information compiled in a database for almost 2800 workers at a heavy manufacturing plant. The researchers analyzed the effects of work hours on a broad range of health, safety and productivity outcomes. The unidentified company used in the study strongly encouraged employees to work overtime, but didn’t mandate it. Workers at the plant clocked an average of 43 hours per week.

The results of the comparison challenged the widely held belief that each hour an employee works beyond 40 hours increases health and safety risks and reduces productivity. In fact, the researchers didn’t find any negative effects until the 60-hour-per-week mark. And even when workers reached this mark, the only negative consequences the researchers found were an increased risk of workers’ compensation claims for hourly female employees with a history of such claims and new musculoskeletal diagnoses for older workers.

Furthermore, while employees in these two subgroups showed a higher rate of injuries and other health problems when they worked 60+ hours, employees with other job and demographic characteristics showed no additional safety or health problems when they worked schedules of 60 or more hours. In addition, employees who worked from 48 to 59 hours showed no increase in physical or mental health issues regardless of their job and demographic characteristics.

The researchers went on to note that their findings also challenged policies like the Working Time Directive established by the European Union to protect workers from exploitation by employers. While it addresses employment issues such as how many breaks employees can take, and how much time off they are entitled to, the directive’s most significant regulation is aimed at limiting the average working time for employees in the European Union to 48 hours a week.

The conductors of the study believe that policies like this one may provide an obstacle that keeps private-sector employers from being competitive. They felt that employers whose operations are structured in ways that are maximized when employees work overtime were especially hindered.

The researchers concluded that although work hours are a factor, they should be considered in conjunction with other factors that comprise the larger context within which employee health, productivity and safety outcomes are determined. More emphasis needs to be focused on prior health and other factors that may be exacerbated by the number of hours worked. These are better predictors of employee safety and lost productivity.

Make Christmastime Safety Time

One of the most anticipated activities of the holiday season is the decorating. The smell of a fresh tree, the glistening garland hanging from its branches, and the glow of candles all are synonymous with Christmas. However, trees and other holiday decorations can pose safety hazards if used improperly. Remember the following tips to keep your Christmas decorating merry:

·   Trees-If you buy a fresh tree, choose one with green needles that are hard to pull from the branch and that bend without breaking. The base of the tree should be sticky to the touch. Place the tree a safe distance away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources, and keep it away from high traffic areas and doorways. Mount the tree in a sturdy stand; fasten a large tree to the wall or ceiling with thin guy wires. Keep the tree stand full of water at all times.

·   Lights-Use lights that have the “UL” label. Check all lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Outdoor lights should be weatherproof, and fastened securely. Use no more than three sets of lights per extension cord. Don’t use lights on a metallic tree because the tree can become charged with electricity if the lights are faulty. Always turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

·   Candles-Never use lighted candles on a fresh tree, or near other evergreens. Stand candles in nonflammable holders and place the holders where they can’t be knocked over.

·   Trimmings-Use flame-retardant decorations. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles made from plastic or nonleaded metals because materials containing lead are poisonous if ingested by children or pets. Spun glass “angel hair” is flameproof; however, if nonflammable artificial snow is sprayed on it, the combination burns rapidly.

Also make safety a holiday priority in your gift giving, when selecting children’s toys. Recent recalls of toys with lead paint or other defects highlight just some of the issues to keep in mind about toy safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers more guidelines to keep the kids on your holiday shopping list safe:

·   Don’t buy toy chests without safety hinges on the lids. Those that can slam shut have been blamed for 21 deaths during the past 10 years.

·   Select toys appropriate for the skills, abilities and interests of a child. Federal safety requirements concerning sharp points apply to all toys for children under age 8.

·   Make sure all instructions are clear to you and, when appropriate, to the child.

·   Toys with long strings or cords are not recommended for infants and very young children because they can cause strangulation. Never hang toys with long strings, cords, loops or ribbons in cribs or playpens where children can become entangled.

·   Discard plastic wrapping on toys immediately before it becomes a deadly plaything.

·   Check toys periodically for breakage and potential hazards.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Ten Tips for Avoiding Legal Malpractice

Statistics show that in any given year, a minimum of five to six insured lawyers out of every 100 in private practice experience a malpractice claim, according to the Colorado Bar Association. In other words, a firm with 20 lawyers could be the recipient of a claim every year. As exposure to legal malpractice claims continues to rise, it is an important function of law office management to establish effective loss prevention practices:

·   Develop a standard calendaring system – This should contain all items to be calendared, deadlines for the various cases being handled, as well as deadlines for critical events. It should also include frequent reminder dates. The most effective calendaring system will have tracking procedures that identify the author of a particular entry.

·   Know the signs of substance abuse and depression – Heavy workloads can often result in an attorney becoming depressed or compensating through substance abuse. Knowing the warning signs associated with each scenario can prevent the firm from being hit with a malpractice suit because of a dysfunctional attorney. Symptoms of substance abuse include Monday morning tiredness, missing deadlines and appointments and neglecting mail and phone calls. Behavioral changes associated with depression include misplaced anger, frequent bouts of crying, self-criticism, becoming easily distracted, and lack of interest in every day activities.

·   Maintain good client relations – When accepting a new client, an attorney should discuss the purpose for which the firm was hired, reporting schedules, fees and billing arrangements, and client obligations. All of this information needs to be documented in writing and given to the client. Also, be sure the lines of communication remain open throughout the attorney-client relationship.

·   Screen clients carefully – Establish a policy of screening clients using a pre-determined set of criteria. Hold each attorney accountable for using those criteria.

·   Conduct thorough research and investigation – Some of the most common errors include failure to correctly apply the law, failure to determine a deadline, inadequate discovery and investigation, poor planning, and errors in the choice of procedure. The attorney of record should review staff work to ensure the accuracy of their work.

·    Avoid conflicts of interest and matter – Avoiding conflicts of interest involves establishing and updating a database of all clients and matters handled. To avoid conflicts of matter, create the practice of circulating a “new matter memo” to all attorneys and support staff whenever the firm accepts a new case. 

·   Never become inappropriately involved in a client’s interests – Accepting a director role in a client’s company, investing in a client’s securities, transacting business deals with a client, agreeing to contingent cash fees, and soliciting investors for a client’s business can result in a host of problems.  For example, the firm could be held liable for the attorney’s activities as the director in a client’s company or face conflict of interest charges because of an attorney’s personal involvement or investment in a client’s business.

·   Document all work – Establish a system for verifying the accuracy and content of all documents such as letters, briefs, contracts and motions. Also create separate files to store all documents prepared or received for each client matter.

·   Avoid fee disputes – Document fees and the scope of work in all matters. Bill on a monthly basis unless the client has asked for a different arrangement. Provide the client with detailed billing statements that include who performed the work and how much time was required.

·   Never delude yourself into believing you are immune from a malpractice suit – Your best defense is to remain acutely aware of how prevalent malpractice suits have become. It is this awareness that will motivate you to establish and maintain effective loss control procedures.

GMAC Survey Shows Drivers Unsure of Bus Safety Rules

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), school buses represent one of the safest modes of transportation, nearly eight times safer than passenger vehicles. That’s partly because school bus transportation is subject to both federal and state regulation.

However, even though the operation of school transportation is closely monitored, school bus drivers cannot control the behavior of other vehicles on the road. According to a 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, titled Traffic Safety Facts, an average of 20 school-age children die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year.

In an effort to keep school children safe, GMAC Insurance conducted a survey of 5,524 licensed drivers to find out what misconceptions they had about common laws relating to driving while in the vicinity of school transportation.

According to the survey results, many drivers know they must stop when approaching a school bus from either the front or the rear when the vehicle’s red lights are flashing; however, they are unsure about the exact stopping distance. Only 30 percent of the drivers polled knew that the correct stopping distance is 20 feet from a bus.

The survey’s findings also revealed other gaps in many drivers’ knowledge about the proper procedures when driving near a school bus. To help keep students safe, GMAC developed the following five tips for drivers to remember:

1.   Stay stopped. When a school bus stops and displays its red flashing lights, come to a stop until the lights are no longer flashing or until signaled to proceed by the bus driver or police officer.

2.   Keep back. Drivers should stop at least 20 feet (or one and a half car lengths) from the back of the bus.

3.   Don’t pass. It is illegal to pass on the right side of the bus, where children are loading and unloading. In many places, school bus drivers can report a passing vehicle.

4.   Be attentive. Children may run out into the street when heading home or to the playground without realizing that there are drivers nearby.

5.   Go slow. Obey the posted speed limits in school zones where children are often walking or playing and pay attention to crossing guards.

Your Hands Need Protection from Work Injuries Too

You probably aren’t aware of how complex a piece of equipment your hands are. There are a total of 27 bones in your hand and wrist. These bones are joined together by ligaments, which also hold the joints in place. Nerves carry messages from your brain to your hands and fingers to help them move. All of this intricate machinery is wrapped up in a layer of skin.

The skin provides a barrier against foreign objects, as well as heat and cold. The skin on the back of your hand is thin and elastic, but on the palm, it is thicker to provide traction, cushioning and insulation.

Just like any other delicate piece of equipment, your hands need to be safeguarded while you are working. The most common sources of injury stem from mechanical hazards from tools, equipment, machines, structures and vehicles such as:

·   Chains, gears, rollers, wheels and transmission belts

·   Spiked or jagged tools

·   Cutting, chopping and grinding mechanisms

·   Cutting tools such as knives and presses

·   Falling objects

You can make your hands less vulnerable to these risks by following these safety tips:

·   Work at a pace at which you feel comfortable – The number of hand injuries you will have is in direct proportion to how quickly you work.

·   Keep alert – Stay focused on what your hands are doing whenever you are using tools or machinery.

·   Use a push stick to feed a circular saw.

·   Handle the tools and equipment you work with properly – Never take shortcuts.

·   Use wrenches that properly fit the nuts and bolts you wish to tighten.

·   Use long magnetic poles for retrieving items from places that are too dangerous for hands to reach.

·   Don’t hold the workpiece in your hand while using a hand tool because the tool could slip and cause injury.

·   Never try to repair power tools or machinery without first checking that the power is shut off and the machine is locked out.

·   Wear the appropriate gloves when handling chemical substances.

·   Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or use special cleansers, especially after direct contact with a chemical substance.

·   Don’t wipe your hands with chemically contaminated rags.

·   Don’t operate machinery if you are taking any medication unless your doctor tells you it is safe to do so. Some drugs can slow your reflexes, which makes your hands vulnerable to injury. 

Will Your Insurance Cover the Cost of Rebuilding Your Home?

After a disaster happens it is too late to determine if you have enough insurance to cover the cost of replacing your home and your lost valuables. And as we have seen from recent events, disaster has a way of striking without warning.

Savvy homeowners make it a practice to review their homeowner’s insurance on an annual basis to see if their policy still provides adequate coverage to rebuild their homes at current construction costs. This is especially important if you have recently paid off your mortgage and you only purchased enough insurance protection to satisfy your mortgage lender’s requirements.

When you evaluate your coverage, be sure not to confuse the real estate value of your home with what it would cost to rebuild it.  Another point to consider is whether or not your policy covers improvements such as a new kitchen or bathroom and major purchases, as well as rebuilding costs.

Most basic homeowner’s policies will provide replacement cost for damage to the physical structure of your home. Replacement cost covers the repair or replacement of damaged property with materials that are similar in kind and quality to what your home was built with.

For added protection beyond the estimated cost of rebuilding your home, you need a guaranteed or extended cost policy. This type of coverage is especially important if there is a widespread disaster that raises the cost of building materials and labor. A guaranteed replacement cost policy would pay to rebuild your home regardless of the actual cost. Insurance companies offer extended replacement cost policies, which provide an additional 20% or more of coverage above the limits found in the basic homeowner’s policy.

You should also consider purchasing additional coverage that will increase the protection of the standard homeowner’s policy:

  • Inflation Guard – automatically adjusts the rebuilding costs of your home to reflect changes in construction costs because of inflation
  • Building Code Upgrades – provides ordinance or law coverage that pays a specific amount toward increased building costs resulting from having to meet new or tougher building codes
  • Water Back-Up – insures your property for damage caused by the back up of sewers or drains

Standard homeowner’s policies do not include coverage for earthquakes or flooding, including flooding resulting from a hurricane. Flood insurance is available through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, However, you may be able to purchase the coverage from the same insurer from whom you purchased your homeowner’s insurance. Earthquake insurance is also available through private insurance companies. You should speak to your agent about purchasing flood and/or earthquake coverage if you live in a geographic area that can be hard-hit by these types of natural disasters.

The second part of your coverage evaluation should include a determination of whether or not you have adequate protection for your possessions. You can do this by conducting a home inventory, which itemizes everything you own and the estimated cost to replace these items if they are stolen or destroyed. If you find that your possessions are not sufficiently covered, you can increase protection in either of two ways:

  • Cash Value Policy – pays the cost to replace your belongings minus depreciation.
  • Replacement Cost Policy – pays the actual cost of replacing the item.

If you have a replacement cost policy for the contents of your home, your carrier will pay to replace lost or damaged items with new ones that are comparable. If you have a cash value policy, your carrier will pay only a percentage of the cost of any new items because they have been used and have depreciated in value. Generally, the price of replacement cost coverage is about 10% higher than cash value coverage, but the difference in cost will more than pay for itself in the event of a major disaster.

Make Sure You Are Fully Covered Before Winter Storms Arrive

The beautiful and peaceful looking blanket of fresh snow that a winter storm leaves behind can be deceiving.  Winter storms can be extremely dangerous, causing extensive property damage and hazardous conditions.   Do you know what to do to minimize winter storm damage to your home?  If you do sustain damage, do you know what your homeowner’s policy will cover? 

Winter storms can cause a wide range of property destruction including wind damage, burst pipes and damage to buildings as a result of heavy ice or snow.  Typically, homeowner’s policies cover these categories of loss.  However, flood damage is generally not covered under a standard policy and additional coverage may also be needed for sewer and drain back-ups.

Winter storms not only wreak havoc during the course of the storm but further damage is possible as the snow starts to melt.  You should check your policy to see if this type of damage is covered.  Often damage due to melting snow is preventable and your insurance company may want to see that you took appropriate precautions before they will cover a claim. 

To prevent damage from melting snow:

  • Check for accumulation of snow on the downwind side of your roof and consult with a roofing contractor for safe removal. 
  • Keep gutters clean of leaves to prevent frozen snow or rain from creating an “ice dam” which can damage your home’s ceiling as the melting ice can spread under roof shingles. 
  • Watch for sewer and drain backups as snow melts.  Make sure to alert your local government officials if public street drains become clogged. 
  • Before a storm, remove dead branches hanging over your house.  After the storm, remove large amounts of snow from branches if they pose a threat.
  • Prevent freezing pipes by keeping your home warmer than 65 degrees.  You can also let faucets drip slightly to prevent freezing.  Know where your home’s main water shut-off valve is so that you can quickly turn off water to your house should pipes burst. 

If freezing pipes burst, the contents inside your home could also be damaged as a result of inclement winter weather.  To make sure you would be properly compensated for this type of claim make sure to:

  • Prepare a household inventory including photographs or videotape footage of your possessions.
  • Keep receipts for high value items.
  • Prepare a list of key insurance information including contact phone numbers and insurance policy numbers.
  • Keep a copy of these documents in a safe location outside of your home. 

Snow and ice can also leave you vulnerable to legal liability if someone slips and falls on your property or is hurt from falling ice.  While resulting lawsuits may be covered, you could be found negligent if you didn’t take reasonable steps within an appropriate amount of time to prevent such accidents.  Therefore, to ensure your family’s safety and that of visitors to your home, clear walkways and remove ice as soon as you can after a storm.

Specialized Insurance Available for Green Construction

Weather patterns have become increasingly erratic over the last several years. Heat waves, droughts, mudslides, and increased hurricane activity have become the norm. In 2004, four major hurricanes pummeled Florida; the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and its ensuing floods. Between these disasters and increasing attention from politicians and the media, the problem of global climate change has become a major issue. As a result, the insurance industry has begun to devise new products and strategies for dealing with this problem.

Some insurers are beginning to offer specialized “alternative energy insurance” policies. For example, one company is writing policies to cover alternative energy system performance. This policy insures against the risk that a deficiency in the design of alternative energy technology will result in the under-performance of a facility. The company designed it to help owner-operators of facilities meet the needs of lenders concerned about their investments. Another company has broadened its coverage for commercial buildings to include alternative energy systems. It also will insure against loss of income when alternative energy systems suffer damage and extra expenses when the building owner must buy power from the grid while the system undergoes repair.

At least one insurer offers special coverage to encourage commercial building owners to replace destroyed buildings with new ones using green technology. It gives the property owner several green technology options, including:

  • Non-toxic, low-odor paints and carpeting
  • Energy-efficient electrical systems
  • Interior lighting systems that meet independent energy efficiency standards
  • Water-efficient plumbing systems
  • Enhanced roofing and insulation materials to reduce heat loss.

Anticipating less severe and less frequent losses, the same company offers rate credits to green building owners. It has found that most losses in traditional buildings are from electrical fires, heating and air conditioning system fires, and plumbing leaks. The company expects green technology to make these events less likely.

Another insurer has introduced for commercial building owners a new policy that encourages green building. It features coverage for:

  • The increased cost of green building alternatives
  • The expense of re-engineering and re-certifying green buildings
  • Vegetative roofs, and
  • Additional time to restore operations so that building repairs can include green alternatives.

Insurers are also educating their clients about the implications of climate change. Recognizing that courts could hold businesses liable for future environmental damage, insurers have worked with corporate boards and officers to encourage planet-friendly business practices. Their hope is that actions taken now will reduce the number and size of future liability insurance claims.

While only a small number of insurers offer specialized policies for green construction now, the success of these products will encourage other companies to follow suit. Also, as green building technologies become widespread, the desire to attract and retain business will force insurers to compete with policies of their own. Insurance agents can identify companies that offer these coverages and make coverage recommendations to property owners.  As businesses and households everywhere take steps to reduce their carbon footprints, make certain that your insurance coverage is keeping up with those steps.

Four Tips to Keep Your Teen Driver Safe when You Aren’t in the Car

Newspaper columnist and author Erma Bombeck once humorously advised parents to never lend a vehicle to anyone to whom they’ve given birth. If only life could be that simple. Most parents don’t find deflating the tires and locking away the keys from their teen driver a feasible approach and will eventually let their teen driver borrow the car.

Just because you’ve decided to let your teen get behind the wheel doesn’t mean that you want to hand the keys over haphazardly. There are several things that you can do to prepare your child and help relieve some of the uneasiness you might feel.

1. Enroll in a motor club.

One of the most important features is that the emergency roadside service you pick offers 24/7 roadside assistance. Your teen will then be able call for professional help whenever he/she might need it. You may also consider asking your motor club if they offer emergency roadside services for when your teen is riding in a friend’s car.

2. Have a candid conversation with your teen about driving.

You’ll never know your teen’s knowledge and attitude about driving if you don’t talk to them. Although the graphic details of what can happen when speed limits, stop signs, signal lights, and roadwork cautions are ignored might not be fun topics, it’s important for kids to know the consequences of their driving actions.

You’ll also want to establish ground rules for using the car, such as how many passengers will be allowed, what time it should be returned, and where it can and can’t be taken. Keep in mind that some state laws will dictate the answers to some of these questions.

Another topic of discussion should be drinking and driving. No parent wants to believe that their sweet and levelheaded child would be the type to drive intoxicated, but the reality is that even good kids can be foolish or succumb to peer pressure. Make it clear that you’ll have zero tolerance for both drinking and driving -and- riding with someone else drinking alcohol. At the same time, you’ll want your teen to know beyond a doubt that they can call you anytime they get into a bad situation and you’ll be there to come pick them up.

3. Purchase a global positioning system.

A GPS is a device that you can install to apprise you on the location of your vehicle and teen. You will establish a radius of operation for the device. The GPS will alert you if the teen takes the vehicle outside of your set radius, is driving the vehicle beyond their curfew, and if they break the speed limit.

4. Purchase a speed-monitoring device.

This device, also called a governor, restricts the fuel injection of the vehicle. This restriction prevents the vehicle from going over a certain speed. In addition to standard GPS and governor devices, there are also much more expensive high-tech options like tiny on-board drive cams that capture risky driving behaviors on video.

If you feel like you’re being intrusive, just keep in mind that NHTSA data shows the crash rates for drivers between 16 and 17 years of age are nine times that of an adult driver. As your teen driver becomes a more experienced driver and develops safe driving habits, you can always reconsider your approach.

Worksite Safety Is a Top-Down Process

Most safety programs found on construction sites focus on worker buy-in to accomplish safety objectives and create a safer work environment. The typical methods employed have been to train and re-train workers, provide incentives for achieving safety goals, develop disciplinary consequences for failure to comply and monitor the success or failure of the safety program by auditing worker performance. While this methodology provides some measure of success, ultimately, it will reach a point of diminishing returns.

This type of approach is “bottom-up.” In other words those with the least ability to make decisions that can affect outcomes are given the responsibility for the overall success of the system. For a safety program to function as planned, it must be managed properly. Managing requires the ability to plan and control the effective use of resources, assess risk and make decisions to eliminate or at least minimize that risk. These are “top-down” responsibilities, meaning they fall under the responsibility of those in management. Therefore, the success of any construction site safety program has to start with management buy-in and follow through to the workers.

Management buy-in has to be more than just lip service. Workers follow by example, not words. If management fails to carry out safety program requirements by allowing workers to take shortcuts to meet productivity quotas, they undermine the program at its very core. To create a safe work environment, safety procedures must become an inherent part of operations and workers must be required to follow them at all times, even if they might slow productivity.

The most important management figures in this scenario are foremen because they have direct oversight of work crews. The foreman has the authority to direct how work is performed and make necessary decisions to accommodate changes. They should be held responsible for ensuring that the work has been properly planned, a risk assessment has been conducted, and that only safe work practices are followed on the worksite.

There is often a breakdown in the adherence to safety on this level because newly promoted supervisors are not provided management training in directing work flow or managing change. They must be trained to meet the organization’s goals and objectives by managing performance. To manage performance, foremen need to learn how to establish objectives and create standards that will accomplish productivity goals without sacrificing safety. They also need to be trained in how to communicate these objectives to employees and provide motivation to comply. In this way, both management and workers will have clearly established expectations for which they can be held accountable.

The final component in the success of any safety program is the organization itself. It must provide the resources, knowledge, and tools to enable management and employees to be successful. It is this support that keeps the safety program from becoming a stand-alone incentive and rather integrates it into the overall operation, which is the best way to ensure its success.

Dog Bite Prevention

If you own a dog, you should be aware that it is not completely unlikely that your dog may bite. According to 2009 figures from the CDC, approximately 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. Of these bites, about one in five result in wounds that require medical attention. Furthermore, the property/casualty industry pays out hundreds of millions of dollars to satisfy dog bite claims each year. But you can take steps to make it less likely that your dog will bite.

Prior to bringing a dog into your household:

* Speak with a professional such as a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or a responsible breeder to find out which breeds of dogs are the best fit for your household.

* Dogs with aggressive natures are not appropriate for households with children.

* Pay attention to cues that a child is apprehensive about a dog. If a child seems fearful of dogs, wait before bringing a dog into your household.

* Before buying or adopting a dog, spend time with it. Exercise caution when bringing a dog into a household with an infant or toddler.

If you decide to adopt or purchase a dog:

* Spay or neuter your pet since this action reduces aggressive tendencies.

* Don’t ever leave young children or babies alone with a dog.

* Don’t play aggressively with your dog. Avoid wrestling or tug-of-war games.

* Teach your dog submissive behaviors such as rolling over to expose the abdomen, and giving up food without growling.

* Seek professional advice from a veterinarian or responsible breeder if the dog develops aggressive or other unwanted behaviors.

 Teach children special safety precautions to take around dogs:

* Children should not approach an unfamiliar dog

* Don’t run from a dog or scream

* If an unfamiliar dog approaches, remain motionless

* If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still

* Report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.

* Avoid making eye contact with a dog.

* Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.

* If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.

Be a responsible pet owner and protect yourself and others from dog bites, pain and suffering, as well as insurance claims!

The EEOC Strengthens Commitment to Filing Class Action Suits

In 2006, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission changed its strategy when it announced plans to file more class action suits. This shift was predicated on the decrease in the number of private-sector discrimination-related class action suits and increase in wage-hour class actions. As a result of this decline in discrimination class actions, the Commission’s position may indicate a trend toward more government-led class actions in this area.

The EEOC is in a unique position to litigate this type of suit because it is not required to meet the strict requirements to maintain a class action set forth in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In addition, the agency isn’t hampered by considerations of whether the monetary compensation won will be worth the expense of a trial.

The Commission is also spurred on in its decision by the belief that a national approach to litigating workplace civil rights is necessary due to a lack of consistent effort on the part of the private sector. The Commission itself is guilty of not identifying widespread discrimination in the past, and this shift is seen as attempt to make the agency more proactive.

What means will the agency use to evaluate which cases require class action treatment? Its primary sources will be:

·               Data gathered through EEO-1 surveys of private employers of 100 or more employees

·               Analyses designed by private statisticians who act as consultants to the Commission

·               Charges filed by claimants

·               Its own databases

·               Pending litigation

·               Long-term analysis of EEO-1 reports

In light of this emphasis on rooting out systemic discrimination, employers need to be increasingly vigilant. Here are some guidelines that can help you prevent becoming party to an EEOC-initiated class action suit:

1.                  Keep your affirmative action plans updated so that when analyzing, the data will identify problem areas in recruitment, hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, termination, or other terms and conditions of employment.

2.                  Review the criteria used for hiring, firing and other personnel decisions to identify standards or actions that can be perceived as discriminatory.

3.                  Review instances in which a personnel decision impacted negatively on an employee or employees to be sure that all criteria used to make the decision was job related and the result of the need to maintain business operations.

4.                  Provide updated training for management involved in interviewing, hiring, job assignment, compensation, job advancement, and termination to ensure that they understand their obligations under the equal employment opportunity laws.

5.                  Inform management of the negative impact that e-mails have on the defense of claims, especially if careless phrases are used, insulting comments are made or e-mails are used for inappropriate purposes.

6.                  Publish company policies that spell out a zero tolerance for all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Train non-management employees in those policies and their obligation to report immediately any actual or perceived harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

7.                  Post and regularly distribute policies regarding reporting harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

8.                  Develop a program through which employees receive severance pay or other consideration in exchange for executing binding releases that comply with the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act.

9.                  Keep and regularly review electronic data to identify potential problems and to avoid the possibility of it becoming damaged.

Can I Rent That Condo?

Not everyone wants to actually own a unit in a condominium complex which is why some purchasers buy units as investment properties. The practice has become widespread enough to become a major problem for many condominium associations. To understand the scope of the problem, you need to understand how the secondary mortgage market operates.

The secondary mortgage market is the place where primary mortgage lenders sell the mortgages they underwrite to obtain funds to originate other new loans. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are secondary mortgage lenders who originate a large number of condominium loans for purchase and refinance. They impose restrictions on the number of investor units in a condominium association. Usually no more than 40 or 50 percent of the units can be investment properties available for renting. If an association goes beyond these limitations, new purchasers as well as unit owners wishing to refinance find it difficult to get a mortgage from these lenders.

That’s one of the reasons why you need to check that the unit you are contemplating renting is a legitimate rental property under the condo association’s governing documents. They spell out the policy regarding renting. If the governing documents contain no rental restrictions, then owners have the right to rent their units at will.  However, some governing documents may allow unit owners to rent, but they must do so for a minimum period. That means you must rent the unit for a specific period of time like a year. This restriction is usually intended to prevent short-term rentals resulting in a revolving door of tenants. If there are specific restrictions allowing the board to make reasonable rules and regulations regarding rental issues; these rules cannot violate any state or federal statutes.

The importance of determining the legitimacy of the rental unit is also imperative in terms of safeguarding your rights as a tenant. There are two areas of major concern, rent increases and unlawful eviction. Your landlord may increase your rent, but the increase must be “fair and equitable.” If you are legitimately renting and you think that the rent increase is not fair and equitable, you can file a complaint with the local governing body that handles rent complaints.

The other concern is protection from unjust eviction. The “Just Cause” law protects tenants who live in a building or complex, which has at least five dwelling units. It says that your landlord can only evict you for certain reasons:

·        Nonpayment of rent

·        Refusing to agree to a “fair and equitable” rent increase

·        Not following rules and regulations of the building

·        Not following the provisions of the lease

·        Not meeting obligations toward the property such as protecting the property from being damaged, interfering with the neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of the property; or failing to keep your unit clean and safe

·        The apartment is being permanently removed from the housing market

·        Your landlord plans to use the apartment as his/her own permanent residence

What Do I Own As a Condo Unit Owner?

The term “condominium” in real estate law refers to a large complex that is divided into individual units and sold. When a purchaser buys one of the units in the complex, they enter into a dual ownership situation. The first type of ownership is the acquisition of individual and absolute title to the particular space their unit occupies. That means that they own the area formed by the walls, floor and ceiling of their unit and everything inside including interior partitions, cabinets, appliances and fixtures. They technically do not own the land. However, their ownership of their individual unit is as complete and absolute as a homeowner’s ownership of the house that they buy. They have title to their unit just as they would if they had purchased a single-family home. Additionally, they have the same legal status as a single-family homeowner.

A title search is performed when someone purchases a condominium, just as it is when someone buys a house. This search will disclose any problems with the title of the unit along with any liens against the condominium building or the complex itself. Once the title search is complete and there are no problems, the purchaser receives a deed to their unit.

Because ownership is in the individual unit, the purchaser needs to be sure that the location of his/her unit is precisely and accurately described in terms of space. The physical boundaries of the unit must be pinpointed with the same accuracy that locates a piece of land and distinguishes it from all other pieces of land.

This description is arrived at by dividing, measuring and locating the unit in three-dimensional terms so that it cannot be confused with any other unit space. The legal ramifications of this description are significant. The description safeguards the purchaser from involvement in the interests or obligations of owners of other units in the condominium. The description is also fundamental in obtaining a mortgage and disposing of the unit through sale or by bequeath.

The second type of ownership is an undivided interest in all of the common parts of the property, such as the main walls, roofs, halls, lobbies, stairways as well as the land. This ownership is held collectively with all other unit owners in the condominium. The condominium management controls these common properties. Management is usually made up of a board of unit owners who manage the day- today operations of the complex like garbage collection, landscaping and snow removal.

Because of the shared ownership of common areas, the unit owner has to abide by the legal documents, which govern the association. These documents are known as the Declaration and the By-laws. The Declaration delineates the percentage interest that each unit has in the association. That percentage determines the unit owner’s voting rights and payment obligations.

The By-laws spell out board member qualifications, how the board administers policies and how it oversees the maintenance and administration of the association. The by-laws will also include the rules about meetings, voting, proxies, budget, assessments, insurance coverage, and restrictions on the use of the units and the common areas. 

Learn How to Protect Yourself from Machine Accidents

In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 92,560 injuries, which resulted in lost time from work, were caused by machinery. The agency ranked the top injury causing machines according to the number of accidents that occurred during their use:

1.   Metal, woodworking and special materials machinery (19,269 injuries)

2.   Material handling machinery (16,183 injuries)

3.   Special process machinery (15,576 injuries)

4.   Heating, cooling and cleaning machinery (13,330 injuries)

5.   Unspecified machinery (6,148 injuries)

6.   Construction, logging and mining machinery (6,069 injuries)

The BLS also found that machinery was the chief source of fatal occupational injuries in 483 of the 5,915 fatalities during 2002.

If you use machinery as part of your employment, you need to know how to protect yourself from the hazards that machines pose. The following list of guidelines for correct machine use was compiled by Wake Forest University:

1.   Wear safety glasses, goggles or safety shields designed for the type of machine work being done.

2.   Be sure that all machines have effective and proper working guards.

3.   Replace guards immediately after any repairs.

4.   Do not attempt to oil, clean, adjust or repair any machine while it is running.

5.   Do not leave a machine while it is running. Someone else may not notice it is still running, and be injured.

6.   Do not try to stop the machine with your hands or body.

7.   Always see that work and cutting tools on any machine are clamped securely before starting.

8.   Get help when handling long or heavy pieces of material.

9.   When working with another person, only one should operate the machine or switches.

10.   Do not lean against the machine.

11.   Concentrate on the work and the machine at all times; it only takes a moment for an accident to occur.

12.   Do not talk to others while they are operating a machine.

13.   Be sure you have sufficient light to see clearly when doing any job.

14.   Wear short sleeves or roll sleeves up above the elbow.

15.    Don’t wear bracelets, rings, etc., when operating machines.

16.    Never use compressed air for cleaning machinery.

Keep in mind that although your company may be extremely diligent about guarding machinery, you must still exercise caution because there are some operations that cannot be completely guarded. You should also remember that even though machines are equipped with guards, it is still possible to get your hands and fingers in a machine’s danger zone.

Adhering to these guidelines and any additional ones that your company has in place should lessen the chances of a workplace machinery-related accident happening to your or your co-workers.

Be Proactive to Keep Your Pipes from Freezing

As the temperature drops, pipes that are exposed to the cold are prone to freeze. This is especially true if they are located in unheated areas like basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages. Pipes that run along poorly insulated exterior walls can also be affected by the extremes in temperature.

The continued freezing and then thawing of these pipes can cause the metal to become weakened and break. Water damage caused by burst pipes can result in toxic mold. If the damage isn’t repaired correctly, or isn’t repaired soon enough, it can cause a build-up of mold inside the walls that can make a house uninhabitable. Keep in mind that your homeowner’s policy covers damage from burst pipes, but most likely not related damage from mold.

The best way to keep from being in this situation is to be proactive and prevent pipes from freezing:

·   Install adequate insulation in outside walls that have pipes running along side them, under the floors above the basement, and above the attic ceiling.

·   Disconnect the garden hose before the cold weather begins.

·   Wrap exposed pipes with insulating sleeves.

·   Seal foundation cracks in crawlspaces that could let cold air in that will cause pipes to freeze.

·   Open the cabinet doors under your sinks during extreme cold weather to allow warm air to get in.

·   Run a small trickle of water through cold and hot water faucets attached to pipes that could potentially freeze.

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle of water comes out, the pipe is probably frozen. There are some things you can do to thaw the pipe safely. Here are some guidelines recommended by the American Red Cross:

·   Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.

·   Apply heat to the section of the pipe that is frozen by using either an electric heating pad that is wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable electric space heater, or by wrapping the pipe in towels that have been soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause it to explode. Open flames present serious fire danger, as well as risk of exposure to carbon monoxide.

·   Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is inaccessible, or if you cannot thaw the frozen area, call a licensed plumber.

·   Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may too.

If you would like more information about protecting your pipes from freezing, you can access the American Red Cross’ Fact Sheet: Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes by logging on to

Cover Your Home Office with Necessary Business Insurance

If you run a business from your home, don’t make the error of believing your current homeowner’s insurance policy covers the loss of expensive business equipment. Although many homeowner’s policies offer a small amount of insurance coverage for inventory, there are strict exclusions for liability claims arising from any “for-profit” activities.

While some office-only types of businesses can be insured against liability claims under the homeowner’s policy, professional liability insurance needs would not be included. Insurance packages created specifically for in-home businesses are available at a moderate cost.

An average homeowner’s policy provides only $2,500 coverage for business equipment, which frequently is not enough to cover all business property. You may also need to consider coverage for liability and loss of income. Be aware that insurance companies differ quite a bit in the types of business operations they cover. Taking the time to shop around for coverage options, as well as pricing, will pay off in the long run.

No matter what type of policy you choose, if you’re a professional working out of your home, you probably need professional liability insurance. Depending on the type of in-home business you operate, special policies may be required. You have three basic insurance choices, depending on your specific business:

Homeowner’s Policy Endorsement

In order to double your standard coverage for business equipment, such as computers, you may be able to add a simple endorsement to your existing homeowner’s policy . For as little as $25, you can increase the policy limits from $2,500 to $5,000. Some insurance companies will permit you to increase your coverage up to $10,000 in increments of $2,500.

In-Home Business Policy/Program

An in-home business policy renders more comprehensive coverage for liability and business equipment than a homeowner’s policy. These policies, which are also referred to as “in-home business endorsements,” differ substantially depending on the insurer.

What if you have additional employees working in your home? Some in-home business policies allow a certain number of full-time employees, usually up to three. In-home business policies include extended liability insurance for higher amounts of coverage. For example, they may provide protection against lawsuits for injuries caused by your product and/or service offerings.

Business Owners Policy (BOP)

Developed specifically for small-to-mid-size businesses, a Business Owners Policy is an excellent tool if your home-based business operates in more than one location. A BOP covers business property and equipment, loss of income, extra expense, and liability. These coverage plans are offered on a much broader scale than the in-home business policy.

Check Your Insurance Before Climbing into the Cockpit

Nearly 600,000 Americans are active certified aircraft pilots, according to Federal Aviation Administration estimates. These pilots fly everything from helicopters to commercial jets. Some own the aircraft they fly. Whether you own a plane or fly rented or borrowed aircraft, you should be aware of what your insurance can and cannot do and the insurance coverage you need.

A typical homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover the policyholder’s legal liability for bodily injury or property damage arising out of any of the following:

  • The ownership of aircraft
  • Its maintenance, occupancy, operation, use, and loading or unloading by anyone
  • Entrustment of it to anyone
  • Poor or no supervision of a person using it
  • Its use by a child or minor

Personal umbrella liability policies typically contain similar provisions. Consequently, it is essential for aircraft owners and renters to purchase aviation insurance. A relatively small number of insurance companies offer these policies, and the coverage details vary from one company to another. However, they all cover legal liability for injuries or damages. Coverage applies to the policyholder, anyone riding in or using the aircraft with the policyholder’s permission, and any other person or organization responsible for the aircraft.

Aviation policies normally contain several provisions that limit or eliminate coverage, such as:

  • No coverage for liability that the insured assumed by signing a contract.
  • No coverage for damage to property the insured leases, occupies or has control of, though some insurance companies cover damage to leased hangars.
  • No coverage for losses occurring when the aircraft’s Certificate of Airworthiness is not in effect.
  • No coverage for injury or damage that occurs while the aircraft is being used for an illegal purpose.
  • No coverage for a loss that occurs when the number of passengers exceeds the maximum stated in the policy.
  • No coverage when a pilot who does not meet certain conditions is operating the aircraft. These conditions may include having a valid pilot’s certificate, having logged a minimum number of flight hours, and having flown that make and model of aircraft a minimum number of hours.

Policies usually cover the use of substitute aircraft while the insured aircraft is out of service for maintenance or repair. Also, policies issued to an individual or couple often include coverage for the occasional use of aircraft they do not own.

Aviation insurance also covers damage to the aircraft itself. Policies typically cover damage from all causes other than:

  • Wear and tear, mechanical breakdown, and related causes
  • Damage to the tires
  • Depreciation or loss of use of the aircraft
  • Embezzlement
  • Government seizure of the aircraft
  • Change in ownership of the aircraft

Discuss how you use aircraft with an insurance agent to make certain that you have the proper coverage and amounts of insurance large enough to adequately protect you. Personal aircraft can be a great convenience for their owners. The right insurance can give you financial peace of mind when you jump in the pilot’s seat.

OSHA to Rule in November Who Pays for PPE

This November, OSHA will finally end the controversy surrounding the matter of who pays for an employee’s personal protective equipment when it issues a final ruling on the subject. Labor unions have been waiting for almost eight years for the agency to complete its rulemaking, which would clarify that employers are supposed to pay for safety equipment.

The controversy began in 1994 when the agency tried to establish a policy and clarify the issue of payment in a memo to its field staff dated October 18th and titled Employer Obligation to Pay for Personal Protective Equipment. In this memo, OSHA stated that for all PPE standards, the employer must provide and pay for employees’ required PPE except for those items that are personal in nature or used by the employee off the job. In these instances the issue of payment was left to labor-management negotiations.

OSHA’s position in the 1994 memo was in response to pending litigation between the Secretary of Labor and Union Tank Car Company. In that case, the employer was issued a citation for not paying for metatarsal foot protection and welding gloves. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) reviewed the case and declined to accept OSHA’s interpretation given in the memorandum. It dropped the citation and found that the Secretary had failed to adequately explain the policy outlined in the 1994 memorandum.

In response to OSHRC’s Union Tank Car decision, OSHA issued the proposed rule, 29 CFR 1910.132, which established that employers pay for all types of PPE as required under OSHA standards except for safety shoes, prescription safety eyewear and logging boots. The proposed rule was predicated on OSHA’s conclusion that the OSH Act implicitly required employers to pay for PPE that is necessary for employees to perform their jobs safely.

In 1997, OSHRC declined to accept OSHA’s interpretation that in the majority of circumstances, employers must pay for employees’ PPE as required under Section 1910.132. OSHA’s response was to start rulemaking proceedings to clarify the party required to pay for PPE in all situations where an OSHA standard requires its use. On March 31, 1999, the agency issued a proposed rule to require employers to pay for all PPE except in a few specific cases. After OSHA received public comments and held hearings, the record was closed on December 13, 1999.

In 2004, the agency re-opened the record because there was a need to evaluate the proposal further, and requested more input from the public. OSHA wanted public comment to address the issue of how to handle certain types of PPE that are usually supplied by the employee, taken from site to site or from employer to employer, and considered to be “tools of the trade,” especially in industries with high turnover.

In January 2007, The AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) filed suit against the Department of Labor over its failure to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for PPE.  They asserted that this failure was endangering workers’ lives.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, petitioned the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to finalize the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.

On February 16, 2007, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the Department of Labor to respond to the unions’ lawsuit by March 19th. However, several days before that deadline, legal counsel for the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, filed papers with the appeals court asking it to hold the case “in abeyance” until the final rule is issued in November.

Remaining Under the Radar with Your Homeowner’s Coverage

If you contact your insurance company to verify coverage for a particular claim, it goes on your record.  Even if you call your agent directly, they might be obligated to inform the insurer of your inquiry.  Too many inquiries, even if you never file a claim, can jeopardize your policy.  Too many claims, regardless of their size, can result in non-renewal at the end of your policy’s term.

Here are several ways to stay under the radar with your insurance company:

  • Don’t file for small claims.  When property damage occurs, get estimates first before calling your insurer or agent.  Pay for small repairs yourself, if possible.
  • Consolidate coverage.  Have your homeowner’s and auto insurance with the same company.  The insurer might think twice about canceling if you’re likely to pull the other coverage and move elsewhere.
  • Increase your deductible.  If you heed the earlier advice and don’t intend to file for small claims, save the money you’re spending on a policy with a $250 deductible and raise it to $500 or even $1000.
  • Insure your home for its replacement cost, instead of the balance of the mortgage, and save money.  Approximately 25 percent of your mortgage represents the cost of the land.  If your home burns to the ground, you’ll still have the land.
  • Stay with the same insurer indefinitely.  You’ll build up a track record, and your insurer might refrain from canceling your policy if you do have a claim. 
  • If you purchase a house, check into a homeowner’s policy before your closing date.  Thanks to the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE), there is a database of insurance claims that inform an insurer if a particular house has ever been subject to a claim.  If previous claims were paid on the house, you’ll have a hard time obtaining coverage, even if you’ve personally never filed a claim.  Furthermore, any insurance you’ll find will be more expensive than standard rates.

At the same time, if you’ve filed claims before and purchase a new home, you could be denied a policy, not because of the house, but because of your own claims history. 

Call your state’s insurance commission to ask about state regulations concerning non-renewal or cancellation.  A few states have laws that prevent an insurer from refusing to renew your policy for claims caused by acts of nature.

Bearing the Risks of Condo Ownership

Living in a condo can be risky business if you fail to discover where you are vulnerable so that you can remove or at least lessen your liability.  As always, any liability assessment starts with the condo association’s master policy.

There are four basic types of risks that associations must protect themselves against. The first is property loss, which means physical property as well as intellectual property such as legalities of the association’s operations. The second is liability resulting from a person or legal entity filing a claim against the association. The third is any unplanned loss of revenue or increase in expenses in an accounting period, and the fourth is losses resulting from the inability of an association employee or board member to continue in their current capacity.

In order to manage the risk associated with these losses, condo associations generally have master policies that include:

  • General Liability – for claims of bodily injury or property damage
  • Workers’ Compensation and Employer’s Liability – coverage of employees against injury while they are working
  • Directors & Officers – to cover claims of negligence or malfeasance by association leaders
  • Fidelity Bond – for claims of misappropriation of association funds

These policies can be written separately, but they usually are combined into one umbrella policy.

As a unit owner, you need a personal policy to cover personal property. Your policy is typically written on Form HO-6. The liability coverage on Form HO-6 is similar to other homeowner’s policies, but the property coverage is not.

Form HO-6 covers your personal property, as well as improvements, additions, and private ownership spaces such as balconies, private entranceways and private garages. However, the policy only covers physical damage to property if it is caused by a named peril that is specified in the policy. Named perils are standard and include events such as fire, lightning, storm, explosion, riot, aircraft, smoke, vandalism, theft, and broken glass.

Your personal property is not covered for damage resulting from perils listed in the exclusions section of your policy. These usually include damage that occurs from enforcement of building codes, earthquakes, floods, power failures, neglect, war, nuclear hazard or intentional acts of destruction.

As the condo unit owner you also have to be vigilant about property loss in the master policy coverage.  In general, a condo association’s master insurance policy will require you to share a part of the loss if the building is damaged by fire, lightning, vandalism or the weight of ice or snow. Remember, as the common owner of shared spaces, you assume the liability connected with damage to those shared spaces. Your personal insurance coverage will provide you some relief from this debt, but be advised that you may want to consider augmenting it. That’s because a policy written on Form HO-6 entitles you to collect up to $1,000 for loss assessments charged to you by the condo association. Be aware that Form HO-6 has a unique feature in this regard. When a loss is covered by both the condominium’s master insurance policy and your individual policy, your homeowner’s insurance will only pay for the balance of the loss that remains after the master insurance policy pays 100 percent of its limit.

Understanding the features of your personal coverage as well as the master policy will help you know your rights and responsibilities in the event it becomes necessary to collect on your coverage.

Take Steps to Prevent Workplace Bias Claims Before They Happen

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently reported that work-related bias complaints increased to 75,768 during 2006 compared with 75,428 the previous year. Discrimination complaints had previously risen to a seven-year high of 84,442 in 2002, but then steadily decreased from 2003 to 2005. The most frequent complaints have remained consistent throughout the years, including allegations of discrimination based on race, sex or retaliation.

This upward trend in the number of suits filed should raise alarms for employers everywhere. The legal cost to defend an allegation of discrimination that reaches trial has been estimated between $75,000 and $200,000. This doesn’t include hidden costs like work time lost because of gathering evidence or giving depositions. It also doesn’t include costs associated with an appeal or with payment of a final judgment.

The National Center for Preventive Law (NCPL) at the California Western School of Law in San Diego recommends that employers practice what it refers to as “preventive law.” That means assessing legal risks and instituting solutions to prevent them from occurring.

To assist employers in creating an effective prevention program, NCPL has established the following guidelines:

·            Manage Compliance – Develop a corporate policy regarding discrimination and document in the employee handbook. Document the specific ways in which corporate policy enforces compliance. Maintain a record keeping system that indicates what actions were taken if policies were violated.

·            Contain Risk – Identify overt employee conduct that could lead to a lawsuit. Also look for less obvious misconduct that encourages or promotes discrimination.

·            Respond to Change – Maintain the longevity and continuity of your policies by including mechanisms that allow for necessary updates caused by new business activities or other organizational developments.

·            State Compliance Policy – Take every opportunity to restate corporate compliance policies, including such practices as having department managers discuss them during departmental meetings or by distributing fliers that remind employees about these policies.

·            Top Level Endorsement – Provide continuing opportunities for senior management to oversee and promote corporate compliance policies.

·            Create Compliance Accountability – Hold all staff members accountable for compliance in every activity they initiate or oversee.

·            Ensure Program Fairness – Be sure practices treat all employees fairly and guard against retaliation for raising compliance issues.

·            Maintain High-Level Oversight – Establish a Compliance Officer who has the authority to initiate, coordinate and review corporate compliance efforts.

·            Reward Success – Promote continued compliance through rewards such as monetary compensation.

Know What Red Flags to Look for when Purchasing Your First Home

According to the National Association of Realtors, most average home buyers look at 10 to 12 homes before making a purchase. However, some can painstakingly look for months, even years, before finding the one.

With such a long and tiring process, it’s very easy to get starry-eyed when you finally find the house with the perfect exterior, outdoor space, paint, room sizes, and so forth. Within a month, you’ve bought and moved into your new home. It’s at this point that you discover the roof is leaking and the foundation is cracked; suddenly, everything isn’t as perfect as you imagined.

A lot of homebuyers, especially those buying their first home, get caught up in a situation just like the above by focusing most of their attention on all the pretties and easily fixed dislikes of a home. All the red flags that signal the house might be more expensive or more trouble than it’s worth are overlooked or ignored. That’s not to say that your perfect house should be nixed for having a few flaws, but you do want to avoid having one of the largest purchases you’ll ever make turn out to be a lemon. Here are a few tips on some common problem areas:

1. Foundation

Foundations are one of the most expensive repairs facing a homeowner. Therefore, it should be one of the first things a homebuyer checks. Look for any cracks in the stone or concrete basement walls, brick fireplace wall, around all windows and doors, and along the outside brick veneer. These can be the first sign of an structurally unsound foundation and should be further inspected by a professional before the home is purchased.


If the home has HVAC to heat and cool it, then make sure to ask about the system’s age and operation, look for any poorly connected vents, and watch and listen as the unit runs. Minor issues with the system can reduce how energy-efficient the home is and increase electric bills, while a total replacement can cost several thousand dollars in immediate expense.

3. Electrical

A home built in or before the 1930’s could still have knob-and-tube electrical wiring. This can be a problem if it has been tampered with, such as from attic insulation being blown-in atop the wiring. Such tampering can create dangerous fire hazards. Furthermore, most insurers don’t consider this type of electrical system safe and will charge you higher premiums or turn you down entirely. Keep in mind that rewiring the entire home will be a multi-thousand dollar expense.

4. Water Damage

Homes that have had water damage or leak issues might be hiding several expensive fixes and dangerous health issues like mold. Look for the signs of past leaks, such as any brown or white stains along the basement, main level, and upper level walls; mold growth under sinks; and horizontal stains along any bare floors. While fresh paint, especially in a basement, may just be updates, it could also be designed to hide the stains of water damage.

5. Look Twice

The first walkthrough of a home is often with rose-colored glasses. Even if you want to make an offer, take a few days to collect your thoughts and return to view the home at least one more time.

6. Pricing

There’s a big difference between getting a good deal and coming across a home with a price too good to be true. Suspiciously priced homes or sudden large price deductions can be indicators of an undisclosed problem, which is why a home inspection is so important.

7. Home Inspection

Home inspections can be a buyer’s best friend and a seller’s worst nightmare. Never make an offer before getting a home inspection. Get a second opinion anytime a home inspector files an inconclusive report.

Be safe rather than sorry.  First-time homebuyers can avoid many of the pitfalls to buying a home by just knowing what red flags to look for and not ignoring them.

Practice Safety When You Travel to Work

You rely on your company to provide a safe environment while you are on the job. However, your company relies on you to act safely when you are traveling to and from work.

No matter how you travel, every one is vulnerable to the possibility of an accident. However, of all the means of travel, walking probably provides the most risk. That’s because pedestrians are vulnerable to every form of moving vehicle. The American College of Emergency Physicians reports that 68,000 pedestrians were injured in traffic crashes in 2004. On average, a pedestrian is injured every eight minutes in the United States. That’s why it is imperative that if you walk to work, you follow the American College of Emergency Physicians’ recommendations for pedestrian safety:

·   Use sidewalks.

·   Know and obey safety rules (e.g., if a “don’t walk” signal starts blinking when you’re halfway across an intersection, continue walking).

·   Cross only at intersections and crosswalks.

·   Look left, right and left again for traffic before stepping off the curb.

·   Be sure you are seen by oncoming traffic.

Of course, pedestrians aren’t the only travelers who are vulnerable when commuting to work. Drivers also face a number of risks because they travel during rush hours when traffic is at its peak. In fact, says that your commute home from work may actually be the most dangerous time to drive. The site goes on to note that although 12 a.m. – 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings are considered the two most deadly times to drive during the week, the deadliest time period overall is actually from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. More drivers are on the road in the afternoons, and these drivers are generally tired from working, distracted by the problems that occurred during the day, and in a hurry to pick up their children or get them to an activity or event. 

Even though afternoons pose a greater safety threat, all rush hour driving makes it necessary for you to practice extreme caution:

·   Leave early enough to get to work on time without having to speed.

·   Travel at a speed that is suited to the road conditions.

·   Obey traffic signs and signals.

·   Yield the right-of-way at intersections.

·   Don’t swerve from lane to lane.

·   Signal before you make a turn.

·   Stay in the right lane while driving so that cars can pass you on the left where you can see them.

Keep these tips in mind so that you can arrive at and return home from work safely, every day.

Will Your Insurance Protect you from a Facebook Lawsuit?

Mostly everyone knows that the use of social media has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade.  What many people don’t realize are the unique risks that come along with social networking. Anyone using Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites should exercise extreme caution in what they decide to say on-line.

As an example, in 2009 a teenager in New York sued some of her classmates and their parents, accusing the classmates of bullying and humiliating her in a Facebook Forum.   Whether or not the allegations are true, the teenagers and their parents require legal resources to pay for the possible judgments against them.

Many people believe a standard homeowner’s insurance policy will cover them in such a situation.  In fact, it probably will not provide the necessary coverage.  A standard policy covers bodily injury or property damage done to someone else.  It defines bodily injury as sickness, harm or disease, and it defines property damage as destruction of or injury to physical property.  Neither definition includes publishing or saying something that injures another person’s reputation. Hence, the policy is not likely to cover a Facebook post.  In other words, the policy is unlikely to cover the act of making someone else feel miserable due to social networking.

A good source to consider for additional coverage is a personal umbrella policy.  This kind of policy provides additional insurance in circumstances where a loss has depleted the amounts of liability insurance offered under a homeowner’s policy.  Umbrella policies usually have a deductible of $250 to $500; but have the potential to protect the policyholder from financial devastation.  

As Americans become more exposed to risk through social networking, they should choose their words carefully on any social networking site.  Additionally, they should speak with an insurance professional to see if an umbrella policy is a good match for their insurance needs in an increasingly risky world. 

Protect Your Officers with Drive Other Car Coverage

Mary is a junior partner in a law firm and drives a car that the firm owns and insures. She is unmarried and her children are not old enough to drive, so she does not carry a personal auto insurance policy. The firm’s auto insurance covers her as a partner and she doesn’t own another car, so she sees no need to have her own policy. Most of the time, this is not a problem. However, spring break comes and she takes her kids to DisneyWorld. She rents a car at the Orlando airport and never gives a thought to whether her firm’s insurance will cover her if she has an accident with the rental. In this case, a phone conversation with the firm’s insurance agent would have been a good idea.

While driving back from the Magic Kingdom one night, Mary accidentally rear-ends a new Lexus. The damage to the other car is extensive; Mary looks to her firm’s auto liability coverage for the cost of repairing it. The ISO Business Auto Policy covers the person or organization shown in the policy declarations (the information page at the beginning.) In this case, the name shown in the policy Declarations is the name of Mary’s firm. The policy goes on to say that, for liability insurance, the firm is an insured and so is anyone else using, with the firm’s permission, a covered auto the firm owns, hires or borrows, with some exceptions. Unfortunately for Mary, the firm didn’t rent the car; she did. She rented the car in her name. Consequently, the firm’s insurance will not cover her liability for this accident. She will be forced to pay for it out of her own funds.

However, there are a couple of policy changes that the firm can buy that would solve Mary’s problem. The first is an endorsement called Drive Other Car Coverage-Broadened Coverage for Named Individuals. The insurance company will require the insured to list the names of one or more individuals on the endorsement. The change extends several of the policy’s coverages so that they apply to the listed individuals and their resident spouses. This endorsement comes with some significant limitations:

* It extends to the listed individuals coverages that the policy already provides; it does not add coverages not provided. If the firm’s policy does not provide collision coverage on any its vehicles, Mary will not have collision coverage on a car she rents.

* It covers the named individual’s spouse only while a resident of the same household. If Mary is married to Jim, Jim automatically has coverage for a car he rents in his name. If they separate, however, Jim loses that automatic coverage because he no longer resides in the same household as Mary.

* The only family member it automatically covers is the resident spouse. It will not cover any other family members in the household unless the endorsement specifically lists their names.

An alternative to this endorsement is to list individuals’ names in the policy declarations along with the firm’s name and attach an endorsement called Individual Named Insured. It covers the individual listed in the declarations and automatically covers the person’s resident spouse and family members. It also covers these individuals should they injure another of the firm’s employees.

These policy changes affect several coverages, including liability, uninsured motorist, medical payments, and physical damage. An organization should consult with a professional insurance agent to discuss the endorsements’ details and identify the one that will best insure the concerned individuals. With the right coverage in place, Mary can enjoy her vacation without having to worry about who will pay for the fender-bender.

Is the Aluminum Wiring in Your Home a Problem Waiting to Happen?

Any electrician will tell you that copper wiring should always be used for the electricity in your home. But copper is expensive and that can be a hindrance, in some instances more than others. In the mid 1960s to the early 70s copper was far too expensive to be used in homes and was replaced by aluminum as the preferred material.

Aluminum wiring that was installed during this time period is called “old technology” wiring. Such wiring has properties that make it a potential fire hazard. When subject to stress over a period of time, aluminum wiring will deform more rapidly than copper. Likewise, prolonged exposure to heat will make aluminum expand far more quickly than copper. Aluminum wire is extremely brittle and is subject to corrosion from oxidation. This corrosion interferes with its ability to properly conduct electricity.

If you suspect your home has aluminum wiring, there are certain waning signs to look for that indicate you may have the potential for a fire:

·   Face plates on outlets or switches are warm to the touch

·   Lights that continually flicker when they are on

·   Circuits that don’t work properly

·   Smelling burning plastic when you are near outlets or switches

Unfortunately, not all failing aluminum wired connections issue warning signals. Some aluminum wired connections have been known to fail without any prior indication of trouble.

What methods of remediation are available to homeowners that will prevent a tragedy from happening? One way is to eliminate the aluminum wire itself.  Depending upon the style in which your house was built and the number of basements and attics you have, it may be possible to rewire your home. An electrician would install a copper wire branch circuit system, which would essentially eliminate the function of the existing aluminum wire inside the walls. This is expensive, but it is the most effective solution to the problem.

A less expensive alternative is the crimp connector repair. This involves attaching a piece of copper wire to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit with a specially designed metal sleeve. The metal sleeve is called a COPALUM parallel splice connector. This special connector can only be installed with the AMP tool that was developed for this purpose. The AMP makes a permanent connection. The repair is completed with the addition of an insulating sleeve around the crimp connector.

There are two other repair methods that are significantly less expensive than COPALUM crimp connectors, however, neither of these repairs is considered as safe. The first of these, called “pig tailing”, involves attaching a short piece of copper wire to the aluminum wire with a twist-on connector. The copper wire is connected to the switch or wall outlet. These connectors have proven to overheat over time.

The second repair uses switches and outlets labeled “CO/ALR”. These devices perform better with aluminum wire when properly installed than the types of switches and outlets usually used in the old technology aluminum branch circuit wiring.  However, CO/ALR connectors are not available for all parts of the wiring system. These wiring devices are also not fail proof.

Protecting Your Condo Against Floods

Flood insurance is a horse of a different color when it comes to the types of coverage available because it must be obtained through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), there are flood insurance guidelines and policies for both the condo association and the individual unit owner.

The condominium association is responsible for maintaining all forms of property insurance necessary to protect the common property against hazards to which that property is exposed. If the condominium is located in a Special Flood Hazard Area as designated by the federal government, it is the responsibility of the condo association to provide adequate flood insurance protection for all common property.

The Residential Condominium Building Association Policy (RCBAP) Form is designed for buildings owned by condominium associations that have at least 75% residential occupancy and are located in communities covered under the flood insurance program. High-rise and low-rise residential condominium buildings can be insured under the RCBAP. The program enables the association to manage flood insurance needs according to their insurance requirements. Under the RCBAP, the entire building is covered, including the common areas, individually owned building elements within the units, and commonly owned personal property if the policy is written with contents coverage.

The RCBAP is a replacement cost policy. This means that no depreciation deduction is taken at a loss settlement. The maximum available limit is $250,000 per unit times the number of units. Buildings that are not insured for at least 80% of their replacement cost or the maximum amount of insurance available for that building under the NFIP would be subject to a co-insurance penalty at settlement.

Since the association’s coverage of building elements within their unit would be primary, and the unit owner’s personal coverage considered excess coverage, unit owners should obtain information about the by-laws and building coverages provided by the association.

In addition to building elements, unit owners should cover their personal property as well as structural improvements they have made. The policy that addresses the insurable needs of residential unit owners is the Dwelling Policy Form. This form can cover building elements within units, improvements made by unit owners, flood loss assessments and personal property owned by the unit owner or it can simply cover the unit owner’s personal property depending upon how the policy is written. It may not, however, be used to cover the cost of co-insurance or deductibles. An individual unit’s coverage cannot exceed the $250,000 building policy limit for single-family dwellings in program communities, or the $35,000 building coverage limit in emergency program communities.

There are options for covering improvements within units made by the unit owners. If the unit owner purchases contents coverage under the Dwelling Policy Form, coverage is also available for the interior walls, floor and ceiling, if not otherwise covered under the condo association’s flood insurance policy. The coverage limit is 10% of the amount of the contents coverage. If a unit owner uses the contents coverage to insure improvements, it reduces the personal property limit.

If you need assistance in finding flood insurance coverage for your condo, please give us a call.

Keeping Your Construction Site Safe Means Separating Fact from Fiction

With continued emphasis on safety, many companies have developed a knee jerk response to the subject, that is, they are squarely in favor of safety programs, but seldom take the time to determine if currently held beliefs are actually true. This attitude results in a knowledge deficit that can cause a company to foster an unsafe working environment for its employees.

Let’s expose some of these myths and replace them with facts:

·   Safety programs eliminate all risk – Safety is usually defined as the control of recognized hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk. Risk can never be completely eliminated because as work conditions change, new risks can develop from those changes.

·   Safety is a series of actions – Safety is the result of workers’ actions, not the actions themselves. Safety is the outcome you can expect if tasks are done properly and there are no unforeseen events. Accidents happen because certain unexpected events prevent a task from being completed as intended.

·   Safety is an entity unto itself – When safety is departmentalized, employees transfer responsibility for safety to others. Safety is seen as someone else’s job. Employees need to be trained that safety is part of the corporate culture, which makes it everyone’s responsibility. The department is only there to expedite the flow of information among all segments of the workforce.

·   Safety is guaranteed if you follow OSHA standards – Even OSHA is wise enough to realize that no collection of rules can cover every possible hazard. That’s why the agency developed the “General Duty” clause that says if recognizable hazards develop for which there are no rules, you are obliged to fix the problem as though a rule existed.

·   Safety practices translate into a less competitive bid – Contractors who incorporate safety procedures into their operations have the best shot at long-term success because of numerous cost advantages, such as lower overhead and cheaper insurance rates.

·   Safety programs can solve all problems – Safety is an outcome that results from having a delivery process, and managing the effort required to produce the desired outcome. The process is the incorporation of best safety practices in all aspects of the operation. Only the management function is the responsibility of the safety department.

·   Safety is achieved by adding more audits and site inspections – Auditing and inspections reveal what problems are occurring on the construction site and where they are happening. Neither action changes the reasons these problems exist. Audits and site inspections are only valuable if the information they generate is acted upon.

·   Safety practices are reinforced by incentive programs – Incentive programs can affect positive changes in behavior over the short-term. If left in place over a prolonged period, the level of awards has to be increased to maintain the same effect. To achieve lasting behavioral change, employees need to know that management supports safety practices and has zero tolerance for their violation.

·   Safety compliance is achieved through disciplinary programs – If punishment for violating a safety procedure is not administered immediately following the negative behavior, the connection between behavior and punishment is lost and the punishment becomes a drain on morale. Even if administered correctly, discipline is only one tool for accomplishing compliance. Selection, hiring, training, and compensation programs play as crucial a role in promoting desired behavior as discipline does.

·   Safety can be achieved through technology – Problems will not disappear with the introduction of a new technology if the underlying social system that produces those problems remains unchanged. If your firm pays lip service to following safety procedures, but violates those procedures in the name of productivity, no technology can help regardless of how often you track incidents. Eliminate the mixed messages and you can begin to develop a corporate culture of safety.