SECURA earns coveted national wellness award


SECURA recently was honored as one of America’s healthiest companies. The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) presented us with its top designation: the Platinum Well Workplace Award.

It is rare for a company to achieve the Platinum level award on its first submission, and we are only the second company in Wisconsin ever to earn it.

WELCOA rates businesses based on seven criteria. Our success was evidence of a companywide commitment to wellness — ranging from an onsite fitness center and exercise classes, to wellness programs throughout the year, to educational seminars about nutrition, physical health, and emotional well-being.

Not only does the Platinum award recognize the integral role wellness plays in the way we do business; it also shows the company’s dedication to creating a healthy environment for its employees.

“We’re proud to be in the elite ranks of America’s healthiest companies,” said SECURA President and CEO John Bykowski. “It’s confirmation that our long-term integration of wellness into our culture has improved the quality of life for our associates. Plus, I’ve always believed that a healthy associate is happier, more productive, and provides that exceptional level of service we are known for. So it’s a win-win-win situation for us.”

5 New Year’s resolutions for your business


Ring in the new year with a safer, healthier, and more effective business by taking on these resolutions in 2013:

1. Develop an emergency preparedness program. Establish guidelines for medical, severe weather, and fire emergencies. Practice these procedures with all employees, reinforce them at all levels of the company, and post reminders in high traffic areas. Make sure you have an adequate supply of first aid equipment on hand, and have designated employees trained in CPR and standard first aid.

2. Create a return-to-work program. Develop a plan to help injured workers get back to work sooner after an incident. See how to get started.

3. Identify hazards and take steps to remove them. Workplace hazards could include electrical cords on the ground, defective equipment, tired drivers, heat stress, and more. If possible, eliminate the hazard. If not, create warnings (for example, back-up alarms, labels on chemicals). Train your employees on procedures for safely handling the hazards. Provide the appropriate protective equipment, like glasses, boots, reflective vests, earplugs, etc., and make sure employees use it.

4. Offer ergonomics training. Back injuries and cumulative trauma disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome can be costly for your employees and your company. Create a committee or provide employee training about adjusting workstations and computers to reduce wrist and back tension, and safely handling and lifting materials.
 
5. Update your insurance policy. Did you make any significant changes to your business operations in the past year, such as expanding your office or adding new drivers? Contact your insurance agent to make sure all aspects of your business are protected.

RFID credit card may be vulnerable to scam


Ker-chunk, ker-chunk. Those over age 35 will remember that as what paying with a credit card once sounded like. This was back when merchants used a giant contraption to take an imprint of your card. In addition to requiring some serious muscle power on the part of the checkout person, this process also was time consuming.

Today, however, cashiers barely have time to greet customers before they wave a card past the contactless scanner and head on their way. But like most things in today’s fast-paced world, there’s a tradeoff for speed.

Contactless cards owe their efficiency to the use of a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, but this same technology also makes them vulnerable to thieves. Criminals could, with inexpensive equipment and from just a few inches away, skim your card information.

That could lead to fraudulent charges in a one-time transaction. The technology makes it unlikely that thieves could use the information multiple times.

Because it’s doubtful we’ll be seeing the old ker-chunk, ker-chunk machine make a comeback, below are some tips and links to help you stay protected from this type of theft.

How do I know if I have an RFID credit card?
A symbol like the one in the photo above may be imprinted on your credit card. Also, terms like PayPass® (MasterCard), payWave® (Visa), or BLINK® (Chase) are good indicators you have an RFID chip.

How can I prevent RFID credit card theft?
The most secure method is to ask your bank to give you a card without RFID technology. Alternatively, you can buy protective credit card sleeves — or even wrap your card in tinfoil.

Though criminals need to stand in close proximity to steal your RFID signal, it’s easy to become a victim of this scam. For more information, view a video at http://bit.ly/QSRf5U or an article at http://bit.ly/W3adwh.

How to heat your home safely


No matter how you choose to heat your home during winter, a heating source can become a fire hazard if it’s not properly maintained. Here are reminders to help keep your home warm and safe:

Wood-burning stove or
pellet stove
•  Leave the proper clearance around the stove. Brick, stone, and metal can get hot enough to ignite nearby combustible materials.
•  Keep curtains, clothing, furniture, paper, and kindling away from the stove.
•  Check the walls near the stove — they shouldn’t feel uncomfortably warm.
•  Clean the stove regularly. Creosote is a flammable coating that can build up on stove pipes and chimneys, and must be removed.
•  Never start a stove fire with gasoline, kerosene, or starter fluid. These substances could cause an explosion.

Fireplace

•  Clean out your chimney regularly, especially if you use your fireplace often or burn green wood — this can lead to an increased buildup of creosote.
•  Have your chimney checked for cracks, loose bricks, or unused flue openings that are improperly sealed.
•  Avoid large fires of paper or trash, which send dangerous flames and sparks up your chimney, and use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from escaping.
•  Have a professional inspect your gas fireplace, including cleaning the logs and checking the fan and vents.

Space heater

•  Stand the heater on a level surface, and keep it at least three feet away from any combustible materials.
•  Plug the heater into an outlet, not an extension cord.
•  Turn off the space heater when you leave the room and while you sleep.
•  Don’t use a space heater to dry wet clothing or to warm bedding.
•  Replace, don’t patch, damaged or frayed electrical cords.

For more heating safety tips, visit http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/heating/fireplace.shtm.

FAQs — What is EPLI?


The insurance concept is pretty simple. We buy insurance to protect us from loss.

Where things can get confusing is when the talk turns to specific coverages. Take, for instance, Employment Practices Liability Insurance, which your agent may refer to as EPLI. If you run a business with employees, EPLI is almost certainly a must-have, even for businesses with only a few employees.

But what is it? And why do you need it?

EPLI protects businesses from the losses that could result from hiring and dismissing employees, harassment, and promotions and demotions. In today’s litigious society, these types of claims have become more frequent and at times costly to employers. While coverages can vary, generally EPLI protects against:

   •  Wrongful termination
   •  Wrongful demotion
   •  Harassment
   •  Defamation of character
   •  Acts that invade employees’ right to privacy
   •  Failure to promote a qualified employee

When purchasing EPLI coverage, businesses may want to look for a company that offers free value-added features that complement the protection with:

   •  Consultative services for employment practices questions

   •  Templates of employment and human resources documents
   •  Self-audit checklists
   •  Educational articles and resources

For employers both large and small, EPLI provides exceptional peace of mind and premiums are quite reasonable. To learn more about the coverage, speak with your independent insurance agent.

Three steps to an organized home


Storing excessive amounts of items in your home, whether they’re used regularly or just collecting dust, can create an unsafe environment — even if confined to one area.

If a visitor tripped over clutter in your home,
you could be liable for his or her injury. What’s more, chemicals or other flammable materials stored improperly could lead to a fire.


Plus, if you were to have a loss, the disorganization may make it difficult to identify everything that was damaged, slowing the claim process and the time it takes to get your home back to normal.

Here are three simple ways to reduce your risk and keep your home organized:

1. Start with the biggest offenders
It’s easy for clutter to accumulate in storage areas such as garages and basements. Make sure flammable chemicals are stored away from sources of heat, which could cause them to ignite. Store materials such as paper or clothing in bins away from any chemicals. If a fire started, they would only help it spread faster.

2. Designate stations and compartments
Set up areas to store items that could become trip hazards, such as shoes or coats. You also can designate stations to organize mail, phones, and keys.

3. Create a home inventory
A home inventory is a record of belongings in your home. It could be a list or a video showing the contents of each room. In case of a claim, this inventory would help restore your home and possessions quickly.

Visit www.makelifeeasy.com or www.knowyourstuff.org for tools to help you create your own home inventory.

Tips to make sure your bird is fully cooked

“My mother is such a lousy cook that Thanksgiving at her house is a time of sorrow.” – Comedian, Rita Rudner

Yup, the pressure is truly on for cooks of a Thanksgiving feast. Guests might overlook the poorly executed sweet potatoes. They might even hold off on panning the over-seasoned, soggy stuffing.

But cook that bird wrong and your dinner table will deflate faster than the Snoopy balloon after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. However, with some careful planning and following of the tips below, you’ll ensure your bird is safely roasted.

•  First things first. Make sure your turkey is thawed before cooking. If thawing in a refrigerator, allow 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds. That means a 12- to 16-pound bird will need three to four days to completely thaw.

•  Heat it up. Set your oven temperature for 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

•  165 is the target. Use a meat thermometer to remove any guesswork. The turkey needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, which means a cook time of roughly three to four hours for a 12- to 16-pound bird.

•  Leave it unstuffed. While many stuff their birds, it’s recommended that stuffing be cooked in a separate casserole dish. If you do stuff the turkey, it will require additional cooking time.

•  Know your variables. Among the variables that can impact cook times are the accuracy of the oven; whether the bird is stuffed or not; if the cook pan is dark or shiny (dark roasting pans cook faster). An oven-cooking bag also can accelerate the cook time.

For additional safety tips about cooking your Thanksgiving turkey, download a PDF from the U.S. Department of Agriculture here.

SECURA’s fourth annual breast cancer research campaign a success

Together with our agents, we’ve supported breast cancer research by raising awareness and funds in our fourth annual One by One campaign.

From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, we donated $10 for every new MILE-STONE® home and auto policy written. As a result, we will present a check to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for $9,730, bringing our four-year campaign total to nearly $81,000.

We donated these funds in honor of the loved ones of our agents and community members. See the names of those we’ve honored.

Thank you to our agents and everyone who helped make this campaign a success. Though our drive has ended, the battle against breast cancer continues. It’s up to each of us to keep spreading awareness, promoting early detection, and supporting those affected by this disease.

From the FAQ files — can business and personal mix?


In the insurance business, surprises are not a good thing. Independent agents work very closely with policyholders to make sure they have all the information necessary to provide ample insurance protection in the event of a loss.

Equally important is that policyholders themselves keep agents apprised of changes that may impact coverage. Asking questions is a good thing.

For instance, when does a hobby become a home-based business that needs additional coverage? Let’s say Kate is known throughout her community as an excellent cake baker and often is asked to apply her craft for special celebrations. Does she need additional coverage? What if someone picking up a cake slips on flour in her kitchen and breaks a leg? Will homeowner’s coverage apply?

Another example. Ernie is a skilled craftsman and loves building furniture in his basement workshop. He sells his pieces at a local consignment shop. Does he need business coverage? How about Sally, who does home party sales in the evening to supplement her income? Clearly, there are many variations of home-based businesses.

Likewise, each insurance company may have its own standards related to such ventures and the need to purchase additional coverage. If you are involved in a home-based business similar to the ones discussed above, speak with your independent agent to make sure you have the proper insurance protection.

When it comes to insurance, nobody wants to uncover any surprises.

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home


As temperatures drop, you turn on the heat to keep your home warm. But the increased use of heating and fuel-burning appliances in winter means a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the U.S., 150 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Keep your family safe with these reminders:

Understand the risk
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, which can make it deadly — you and your family could be exposed without knowing it. Common sources of the gas include wood and gas fireplaces, charcoal grills, vehicles, and gas-fired appliances.

Protect your home
Have a professional inspect your heating sources to make sure they are working correctly and have the proper ventilation. Never use a range or oven to heat your home. Don’t leave a vehicle’s engine running in the garage — even if the garage door is open. Carbon monoxide quickly can build up in this confined space.

Use a detector
Install at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home, and check it regularly to make sure the batteries are working. You should have detectors in the hallways outside sleeping areas.

Know the symptoms
Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and exhaustion. If you think you may have carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your house, get fresh air, and call 911 immediately. Stay out of your house until the fire department determines it is safe to re-enter.

For more information about carbon monoxide safety, visit www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/co/fswy17.shtm.

Don’t let your Halloween party become a real haunted house


The most frightening part of Halloween might be the dangerous situations that can occur in preparation for the holiday. Whether it’s when carving jack-o’-lanterns, creating costumes, or having beverages, Halloween risks are all around. Here are some tips to stay safe:

Carve the pumpkin, not your hand
“Each Halloween, hand surgeons treat patients with cuts, or more severe injuries of the tendons, arteries, or nerves because of carving mishaps,” says the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

Today, jack-o’-lantern kits are available in place of using a kitchen knife to slice your pumpkin. Injuries still are possible with any tool, so make sure you’re working in a clear, well-lit area and watching where you put your hands. Also, try using battery-operated candles to illuminate your pumpkin instead of open flames to avoid fire risk.

Dress up as a doctor, don’t visit one
Though you may win first place in the costume contest with an elaborate setup, make sure you’re not putting yourself in harm’s way. Loose and baggy material makes it easier to trip or get caught on objects, creating a falling hazard. Think about fire-retardant outfits and non-toxic makeup for your own safety.

Arrrr you sure you need more rum?
Halloween events typically draw large crowds and may welcome irresponsible adults. There’s no need to become Captain Morgan just because you’re in a pirate costume — if you’re consuming alcohol, be sure to drink in moderation and be smart. If you’re hosting the party, make sure your guests have a sober ride home. Halloween drunk driving statistics are scary:

    •   In 2010, 41 percent of all highway fatalities across the nation on Halloween night involved a
        driver or a motorcycle rider with a BAC of .08 or higher.

    •   An estimated 41 million children will be out trick-or-treating this year, and they’re not always visible
        while crossing streets or walking along roads.

    •   Most people know their state’s blood-alcohol driving limit. But do you know how many drinks it
        takes for you to get there? Refer to a BAC calculator like this one: http://dui.drivinglaws.org/calc.php

A different perspective on fire prevention, safety


In a fire, thick black smoke can turn your residence into a labyrinth of obstacles preventing escape. As a test, close your eyes and, with some help from a seeing person, attempt to exit your home from several locations. Not an easy task, as familiar surroundings become anything but in total darkness. A changed perspective makes all the difference.


Using the exercise above is a good means to educate family members about the importance of having and practicing an escape route in the event of a house fire.

A change in perspective also can help in preventing a fire. Walk through your house with a fresh set of eyes focused solely on identifying possible fire hazards. Hazards you might want to be on the lookout for include:

•  Kitchen - Are towels and other flammable items placed too close to the stove or toaster oven? Do you unplug small appliances such as the coffeemaker and toaster when not in use?

•  Bathroom - Make sure all hair styling tools (irons, dryers, etc.) are unplugged when not in use.


•  Bedroom - An electric blanket should not be tucked in at the sides or covered with a quilt as it could overheat.

•  Family room - In today’s home, family rooms have more electronics plugged in than ever before. Make sure to not overload circuits by plugging too many items in one outlet. Likewise, recessed lighting holds in heat, so it’s imperative to use the correct Wattage bulb (if you don’t know, use 60 or less Watts).

•  Basement/utility room - Store combustibles away from the furnace, boiler, or water heater.

It’s amazing how different things can look with a fresh perspective. So take time this month to survey your home for hazards and correct them. Don’t forget to review your evacuation plan as well. For more fire prevention tips, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website here.

From the claims department FAQ files — what critter damage is covered?


Cooler temperatures mean those critters that have been wandering around the neighborhood are starting to think taking up residence in your house for the winter might be a good idea. Problem is, these freeloaders aren’t paying rent, and they can really do a number on their “living space” in your home.


Homeowners should take a look at their policies to make sure they are covered in the event the above scenario plays out.

Understanding coverage starts with realizing many insurers differentiate critters from vermin/rodents, insects, and birds. For instance, a raccoon is not within the definition of vermin or rodent. So in many policies, damage done by raccoons would be covered. But damage from a squirrel, a member of the rodent family, wouldn’t be covered.

If the responsible culprit isn’t present in the dwelling any longer, a claim representative may contact a pest control professional to help determine what type of creature caused the damage. However, periodically, that fact can’t be ascertained. In those cases, the benefit of the doubt likely will be given to the policyholder and the claim paid.

You can head off such claims or expenses by taking precautions now to lock out unwanted guests. For an article about how to keep your home free of pests this fall and throughout the year, click here.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings opportunity to join the fight


Breast cancer mortality and incidence rates have been declining, but this disease still brings devastating loss — on average, a woman in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer every 2.3 minutes. During October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re highlighting the importance of getting involved in the battle against breast cancer.


Whether that means participating in a fundraiser, performing a self exam, or supporting a loved one, it’s up to each of us to spread awareness and promote early detection to help those rates continue to decline.

That’s why SECURA joined the fight. We’re in the midst of our fourth annual One by One campaign to raise funds for breast cancer research. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, 2012, we’re donating $10 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) for every new SECURA MILE-STONE® home and auto policy we issue.

There are countless ways for anyone to get involved this month and year round. Here are just a few of the options:

Run, walk, or bike for a cure. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising can help lower your risk of breast cancer. Double your impact by exercising as part of a fundraising event. Find an event near you or get ideas for hosting your own event.

Set up your appointment. According to the BCRF, yearly mammograms are recommended beginning at age 40. Whether it’s Walk-In Wednesday or Mammogram Monday, many medical centers offer walk-in appointments to make it easier for women to get their annual mammograms. Check with your local hospital or clinic to see when they offer screenings. Women also are encouraged to perform self-exams.

Share your story. Tell others how breast cancer has impacted your life or the life of a loved one to promote greater awareness. Share your story here.

Or, leave a comment to tell us about other ways to join the fight against breast cancer.

Prevent brain injuries this football season and beyond


The effects of concussions have been getting a lot of press as reports of serious brain injuries in retired football players continue to pile up. Leagues from Pop Warner to the NFL have increased the quality of safety procedures in place for treating concussions. However, many signs are still being overlooked or ignored, which can prove to be a fatal mistake.

According to The Centers for Disease Control, sports concussions have reached an epidemic level – an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million occur in the United States every year.

While studies have shown that football players are the athletes most at risk, concussions can be caused by any fall or blow to the head, in a contact sport such as hockey or soccer; a car accident; while biking, skiing, or snowboarding; or in other situations. Children also have an increased risk because they are more prone to accidents.

Regardless of the cause, the best course of action after any head injury is to seek medical attention immediately. Watch for the following symptoms, both immediately after the injury and throughout the next week.

    •  Confusion, nausea, or vomiting
    •  Headaches, dizziness, and/or nausea
    •  Blurred vision or sensitivity to light
    •  Memory loss or trouble concentrating
    •  Slurred speech
    •  Continued ringing in the ears
    •  Changes in sleep habits
    •  Unusual behavior or changes in mood

For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov/concussion/index.html

Return-to-work program benefits employees and their company


What a wonderful world it would be if we could prevent all workplace injuries. But the fact is accidents happen and people get hurt. It’s what employers do after an injury that determines whether workers recover quickly or are kept out of work for an extended period. And that all starts with a plan.

The first step is having a program in place for reporting injuries. Early reporting is paramount, and this is where features such as SECURA’s Nurse Hotline can have a huge positive impact. Registered Nurses advise employees on the best treatment for an injury, which is often self-treatment, allowing them to return to work sooner.

However, if the injury results in medical treatment and a claim, a return-to-work program is both the employer’s and employee’s best friend. Here are some tips to consider in creating a program:

   •  Assess your readiness. A positive collaborative work environment is key. Meet with employees,
      union representatives, and managers to discuss goals and the impact it will have on the bottom line.

   •  Develop a proposal. Include role definitions for all stakeholders involved in the program.

   •  Identify possible transitional duties. The ideal transitional duty assignment is meaningful, easy
      to learn, requires minimal training, and has flexible hours. Create a written assignment for
      documenting a bona fide employment offer in the event of future disability litigation.

   •  Evaluate your program. Periodically evaluate your program to determine the long-term impact it is
      having on your organization. Have desired outcomes been achieved? Identify barriers to reaching
      your goals and address them.

For additional return-to-work tips and resources, contact your SECURA Commercial Lines agent or send an email to risk_management@secura.net.

Don’t let stinging insects prevent you from enjoying the rest of summer


Late summer is a time when a lot of us are outside, enjoying the last warm weather before fall moves in. Unfortunately, it’s also when bees, hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets are the most active.


According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), stinging insect species are usually preparing their queen for the upcoming winter and are more aggressive than earlier in the season.

Avoid the annoying insects and their painful stingers by following these tips:
  •  Wear light-colored clothing.  Bright colors
     attract bees.

  •  Wear closed shoes. Some wasps make their nests in the ground and will sting you if stepped on.
  •  Avoid leaving sweet beverages and open garbage outside. Insects are attracted to
     sugary substances. Remember to look in your beverage before taking a drink.

  •  Avoid swatting at stinging insects. They sting primarily when threatened — try to stay still and calm.

If an insect nest is housed on your property, it’s best to hire a professional exterminator. Remember these safety tips if you attempt to destroy the nest yourself:
  •  Do not stand directly under an overhead nest.
  •  Use insect control sprays that allow you to shoot from a safe distance.
  •  Never burn or flood a nest — this can agitate the insects.
  •  Spray hives shortly after nightfall when the insects are least active.

The NPMA says more than 500,000 people are sent to the emergency room every year due to insect stings. Use caution when around bees, and know how to react to symptoms if you do get stung.
  •  Mild reactions are the most common, including itching, redness, swelling, and irritation. No medical
     care is needed, but apply self-treatment if desired. You can use an ice pack for 20 minutes, take an
     antihistamine to relieve itching, or take ibuprofen for pain relief.

  •  Severe reactions, like anaphylaxis, are sometimes fatal — often in the first half hour. It’s important
     to seek emergency medical assistance immediately if you have life-threatening symptoms such as labored
     breathing, facial/neck swelling, confusion, hives, or a rapid heartbeat. 

7 steps to prevent combine fires


A combine fire during harvest could be devastating. Not only do you risk losing your crop, a fire also could result in costly damages to the combine and other property, and limit your time to complete the harvest.


This year, farmers face an increased risk of fire due to the extreme heat and drought.

Follow these steps for a safe harvest:

Before harvest
•  Do a complete maintenance check of the combine. This includes:
        •  Cleaning the combine to remove any oil, grease, or residue buildup.
        •  Checking the guards, brakes, and safety devices.
        •  Reviewing all working parts for any damage or leaks.
        •  Reading the manufacturer’s instructions.

While operating the combine
•  Use a leaf blower or broom to get rid of chaff, dust, and crop residue on your machinery every 4-6 hours.
•  Carry a fire extinguisher in the cab, plus another that can be reached from the ground. Check these
   extinguishers periodically to make sure they are working properly.
•  Shut off the engine and let it cool for 15 minutes before refueling.

Daily
•  Inspect the exhaust system for any leaks or damage, and look for any exposed or deteriorated wiring.
•  Check the following parts of the combine:
        •  Bearings – look for excessive heat or wear
        •  Belts – make sure they have the proper tension to reduce friction and wear
        •  Fittings – make sure they are greased
        •  Fuel, oil, and hydraulic lines
        •  Lubricant levels
•  Clean off the combine at the end of harvest each day.

From vacation to moving day: Is your rental vehicle covered?


You arrive at your destination and head to the rental counter to pick up your reserved car. You’re prepared to hand over payment and collect the keys. And then, they ask if you want to purchase insurance. But do you really need it?

Whether renting a car for vacation or a truck for your move, here are some tips to help you answer the insurance question.

On the road to vacation
Rental car companies offer a variety of insurance coverages, but many of them duplicate the coverage provided by your personal auto policy. 

For example, SECURA’s MILE-STONE® home and auto policy already provides liability coverage for rental cars. If physical damage coverage is included on the policy, this also will apply to a rental car, along with loss of use coverage. It's important to note that if you have a Minnesota MILE-STONE home and auto policy, coverage for liability and physical damage is triggered by your auto’s liability without any deductible.

Before traveling, call your insurance agent to confirm what’s included in your policy. That way, you can compare the options offered at the rental counter, select any you may need, and walk away feeling confident.

Renting a moving truck
Insurance coverage for moving equipment depends on the type of vehicle. SECURA’s policy offers liability coverage for rental trailers, pickup trucks, and cargo vans. Physical damage coverage applies for these only if it is included on the policy.

However, while large rental trucks also have liability coverage, physical damage coverage isn’t available, meaning you would need to purchase additional coverage.

Talk to your agent to find out what’s covered when renting moving vehicles, and work with them to determine any additional protection you may need for the rental period. Ask questions to make sure you’re covered for any mishap while moving, including collisions and theft.

Whether or not you decide to purchase the additional rental coverage, it’s most important that you understand your options and make sure you’re adequately covered.

Monitor bales of hay to prevent spontaneous combustion


When hay is baled and stored at high moisture levels, it can spontaneously combust, often resulting in a total loss of the crop and barn. These hay fires are responsible for hundreds of injuries and deaths each year.

To reduce the fire risk, bale and store hay only when its moisture content is less than 20 percent.

Hay fires generally occur within six weeks of baling, so it is crucial to monitor the temperature during this period. Drill 1/4-inch-wide holes deep into the hay. Tie a thermometer to a string and lower it into each hole, leaving it in place for 10 minutes to ensure an accurate reading.

Monitor hay at these key temperatures:
  •  150 degrees: Monitor temperature daily.
  •  160 degrees: Monitor temperature every
      four hours and inspect the stack. Never
      walk on top of hay that is heating.


Call the fire department and wet the hay at these temperatures:
  •  175 degrees: Move hay away from anything flammable
  •  185 degrees: Flames likely will develop when the hay comes into contact with the air.
  •  212 degrees: Hay is virtually certain to ignite.

Once it reaches 240 degrees, hay treated with certain preservatives emits a deadly hydrogen cyanide gas. Alert the fire department if treated hay reaches temperatures of 160 degrees or above, or if it is burning.

Get the most from your hay crop
Density, air temperature, humidity, and the amount of rainwater the hay absorbed after it was cut all play into how much time it takes a crop to dry. By managing these factors, you’ll protect against hay fires, improving the safety of your crop and your farm.

Help other farmers stay safe by sharing these tips.

Be responsible; dispose of household hazardous waste properly


They appear innocent enough, hiding in the medicine cabinet, basement workshop, or garage. But while it seems simple to just toss them in the trash, careless disposal of household hazardous waste (HHW) can have a devastating impact on the environment, including water quality.

HHW encompasses many items, from cleaners, paints, and chemicals to medications, light bulbs, and electronics. Proper HHW management not only benefits the environment, but many items can be recycled — conserving resources and energy while saving money. Below you’ll find facts and tips related to common HHW items.

•  Car batteries.
Car batteries are among the most recycled products. In most cases, old batteries can be returned to the dealership or store where a replacement battery was purchased.

•  Household chemicals. Chemicals poured down drains can contaminate wastewater treatment and septic systems. They also can harm sanitation workers if carelessly discarded with regular refuse. Contact your local environmental health or solid waste agency for advice on proper disposal.

•  Fluorescent and Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL)
. CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. When released into the environment, mercury is easily absorbed into plants and ultimately our food chain. Never discard fluorescent bulbs in the trash. Many hardware stores have recycling bins for the bulbs, which are almost 100 percent recyclable.

•  Medications
. Most expired or unused drugs can be discarded with normal trash, provided precautions are taken, such as removing them from their original containers and mixing them with undesirable rubbish such as cat litter or coffee grounds. First, consult the label for instructions on disposal. Don’t flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the instructions specifically dictate that. For more tips on disposal of medications, visit www.fda.gov.

To learn more about disposing of HHW and collection locations in your area, visit www.earth911.com.


Keep your pool clean and safe

 
A residential swimming pool often is the centerpiece of the backyard and the focus of attention at weekend gatherings. Like most high-value objects, swimming pools need to be maintained and cleaned frequently to keep them in good condition. 

While you may think it’s vital to have the best looking pool in the neighborhood, it’s even more important to make sure it’s safe.

Follow instructions on chemical labels. If the label is unreadable, don’t guess — return the container to the dealer.

Never mix pool chemicals. Improper mixing can result in water quality issues or harm to your health. Make sure you’re sticking to the instructions.

Store chemicals safely. Cleaning chemicals are toxic — they should be stored in a cool, dry, locked area.

Remove toys from in and around the pool. Cleaning your pool includes taking your children’s toys out. Don’t leave them floating in the pool or out in the open — they could tempt younger kids who can easily fall in.

Look for mold and mildew. More commonly found in pools with ceramic tiles, mold and mildew can cause allergy symptoms, asthma, or respiratory and lung problems. Frequent cleaning should eliminate most mildew and mold spores.

Talk to your children. Remind your kids why safety is important and what they should look for when swimming at a friend’s. It also can be beneficial to have a conversation with other parents to make sure your child is safe under their supervision.

Check out these seven tips for more information about how to keep your family safe in the swimming pool.

Seven tips to prevent backing accidents in company vehicles


No matter what industry you work in, driving a company vehicle includes risk — from the possible cost of property damage to the potential for lawsuits.

And those risks multiply when you need to back up a vehicle. Whether you’re an employer or a driver, it’s important to be trained in proper backing.

Follow these tips to prevent vehicle backing accidents: 

•  Know your blind spots. The larger the vehicle, the larger the blind spot. Ask an employee to stand directly behind a parked vehicle with a safety cone. Have him or her walk back from the vehicle, set down the cone when it becomes visible to the driver, and measure the distance of the blind spot. 

•  Walk around the entire vehicle, observing the proximity of structures, other cars, pedestrians, or overhanging wires. Map it out in your head before you get behind the wheel. 

•  Avoid backups when possible. In a parking lot, pull through to the space ahead of you; don’t leave room for someone to park in front of your vehicle. If possible, park in the street rather than a driveway. 

•  Don’t park in alleys where you can’t drive through. Backing out of an alley into a busy street is dangerous for everyone. If you must park in the alley, back in (if local regulations allow it). 

•  Use a spotter for difficult situations. Communicate with hand signals that the driver and spotter understand. This is important for situations where children are present, such as schools, play areas, and residential jobsites. Children are unpredictable and easily hidden in your blind spots. 

•  Get proper rest. Fatigue and lack of rest are major contributors to fleet accidents. Make sure drivers are well rested and alert when driving. 

•  Use technology with caution. Back-up alarms warn bystanders when a vehicle is in reverse. Back-up sonar warns a driver when an object is in the reverse path, and closed-circuit mini TV cameras give a clear view of the path. However, these tools can fail if the driver or surrounding pedestrians ignore or fail to use these devices properly.

ID theft risk doesn't take a vacation because you do

Vacation time is all about leaving your cares behind and focusing on the fun. However, with identity theft on the rise, you'll want to take extra precautions to ensure thieves don't cut the fun short. Follow these tips to help keep your identity safe while on vacation.

Preplanning is key.
Limit what you carry in your wallet on vacation. That means remove any extra credit cards, your Social Security card, and any documents that may have personal information on them. Similarly, don't carry your checkbook and additional bank or debit cards unless necessary.  

Use your hotel safe. Place important documents and credit cards you don't need in your hotel safe. Never assume a locked room will keep thieves from rummaging through your belongings.  

Be cautious with computer use. Whether you brought your own computer or plan to use an Internet cafĂ©, don't assume Internet connections are secure. Avoid accessing any online banking or personal accounts with sensitive information.  

Don't put your faith in a locked car. Don't leave personal information and belongings in your car, whether visible or in the glove compartment. Carry what you need and leave the rest in your hotel safe.  

Don't forget about home. Make sure to halt mail service or have a friend or neighbor retrieve your mail each day. For identity thieves, a mailbox is a treasure chest of personal information. With a little common sense and preplanning, you can ensure your vacation memories don't include months of work to repair damage from identity theft. For an article about this topic and additional tips, click here.  

SECURA offers identity theft coverage and travel insurance with our home and auto policy. Talk to your independent agent to learn more or to see what's included in your policy.

Workers face increased health risks as temperatures rise


When the sun is scorching on a hot day, many of us move inside to get out of the heat. But if your job requires you to work outside, you don’t always have that option — leaving you at risk of heat exhaustion and, in more severe cases, heat stroke.

It’s important to understand the risk of these heat-related ailments, as well as how to stay cool throughout your workday.

Heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is caused by a depletion of water, salt, and other electrolytes in the body lost through sweat. In addition to flu-like symptoms, victims will experience excessive thirst, rapid heart rate, light-headedness, and moist, clammy skin.

If you notice yourself or others struggling with these symptoms, your first move should be to get out of the heat. From there, remove or loosen tight clothes and apply wet cloths. Drink water slowly, and rest while carefully monitoring conditions. If symptoms progress toward heat stroke,
call 911.

Heat stroke
Anyone experiencing heat exhaustion should immediately be evaluated for heat stroke, which can be a life-threatening medical condition.

Those suffering from heat stroke typically will lose the ability to sweat, causing body temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Your pulse will elevate and skin will become flushed and hot. Hyperventilation, nausea, and vomiting also are common.

Call 911 immediately in the event of heat stroke. While waiting for the emergency vehicle, move to a cool location, apply wet sheets or towels, and fan with air. If you see changes in level of consciousness or vomiting, don't attempt to drink water.

Beat the heat
While you can’t eliminate the threat of heat-related health complications, the following tips can help reduce the risks:

•  Drink water frequently during shifts.
•  Avoid caffeine.
•  Wear loose-fitting, heat-protective clothing.
•  Take breaks in a temperature-controlled area.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress.

Safety for the campfire chef


Whether it’s a toasted marshmallow or a grilled hot dog, some foods just taste better when they’re cooked over a campfire. When you’re cooking on a campfire, follow these crucial steps to ensure a safe, delicious meal.

Packing the cooler
• Keep your food in sealed watertight packages. Store meat separate from any other foods to avoid contamination.
• If you have items that require refrigeration, keep them in the cooler packed with ice and restock the ice frequently. Store the cooler in the shade, and open it as little as possible.

Starting the fire
• Make sure your fire is away from overhanging tree branches. If you’re creating a pit, circle it with rocks and clear away any nearby brush, grass, or leaves.
• Keep a bucket of water on hand, and pile your extra wood away from the fire.
• If you plan to cook with a tripod or grill, set it up before starting the fire to make sure it is sitting on a solid, even base.

Cooking the meal
• Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before cooking. Bring different utensils to prepare raw and cooked foods, and wash them after use.
• Use a food thermometer to ensure your meat is cooked to the right temperature.
• Bring oven mitts to handle any hot cookware. If you’re cooking your meal directly in the coals (whether in a pot or a tinfoil pouch), use tongs to retrieve the food.
• Once you’re done eating, store any leftovers and put perishable items back in the cooler promptly.
• Never bring a grill or cooking stove inside a tent or camper.
• When you’re done with your campfire, drown it with water to make sure it is completely out before leaving the campsite.

Camping out in your backyard?
Check with your town officials to see what types of fire pits are allowed, or if you need a permit for a campfire.

For more outdoor cooking safety tips, visit www.dto.com/cooking/safety.

Child car seat safety hinges on proper installation


The numbers are disturbing. Some quote the percent of child car seats installed incorrectly at 75 to 80 percent. Chat with police officers who conduct child seat safety checks, and a few may put the number as high as 90 percent. For as much as parents are told to review installation of the seats, somehow many are still getting it wrong.

While the biggest tip for parents is to follow the seat manufacturer’s directions, they also should take advantage of car seat safety inspections. Often local police, fire, or sheriff’s departments, state patrol, public health departments, or hospitals will conduct the free safety checks.

Other helpful hints to follow to ensure the safety of children are:

  Install the child seat in the center of the rear seat or opposite the driver (remember to always check this placement with the seat manufacturer’s guidelines).
 
  Replace child car seats after a moderate accident. While the seat might look OK, it’s best not to take any chances. SECURA and some other insurance companies pay for replacement of car seats after an accident.
 
  Check the seat expiration date. Located on the seat somewhere should be a sticker noting its expiration date. Like the tip above, the seat might appear OK, but it could be weakened or otherwise damaged due to normal wear and tear, and sunlight. Most seats expire within five to six years of manufacture.
 
  Consult your state’s standards for child car seats to ensure compliance.
 
  For children under the age of 13, the safest place to ride is in the back seat.

Visit the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration child safety page to learn more about child seat safety, find an inspection station, or read a new parents safety seat buyers guide.