Gratitude is key to battling seasonal depression

Lack of daylight got you down? You may be one of thousands of Americans who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that tends to pop up in winter.

If that sounds like you, here’s a tip to feel better: practice gratitude. In addition to exercise and proper nutrition, research shows that giving thanks actually makes you feel better.

For example, in one study, adults who kept a weekly gratitude journal experienced the highest jumps in happiness compared to people who recorded hassles or neutral life events. The group that practiced gratitude rated themselves more energetic, more enthusiastic, and more alert.

So count your blessings! It worked for the people in the study. Set aside time to write down the things you’re grateful for each day.

Or try these ideas:
  • Send thank you notes. Set a goal — maybe one thank you note a week. Take time to thank someone for something they did or for the positive impact they’ve had on your life.  
  • Give thanks. Spend a moment reflecting on your blessings before each meal. 
  • Keep a relationship gratitude journal. Feeling grouchy with your spouse or one of your kids? Spend a month writing down something nice they said or did each day. You’ll find yourself focusing on the positives as you look for ‘good news’ to record. 
  • Pay it forward. One blogger celebrates her birthday by committing random acts of kindness — one act for each year of her age.  
  • Say thank you. Check your thank you habit to make sure your thank you comes across as sincere, not routine. (Did you look the grocery bagger in the eye and smile or did you toss out a quick “thanks” over your shoulder?)
Practicing gratitude can make you happier. Try it…at least until the sun comes out again!

Tips to protect your car from road salt

Salt that is spread on winter roads does more than eat away at ice — it eats at your vehicle too.

Road salt works by lowering the freezing point of water. With the right concentration, road crews can drop the freezing point to less than zero degrees Fahrenheit. 

Unfortunately, all that salt is corrosive to vehicles. Although most modern cars have improved corrosion-resistant coatings compared to older models, salt is still an issue in the long term.

Prevent roof collapses due to accumulated snow

The Metrodome roof collapse might be the most famous cave-in caused by an over-accumulation of snow. But businesses all across the country suffer roof collapses when too much ice and snow build up.

Flat and low-slope roofs are far more susceptible to damage because snow can’t easily slide off the way it does on more steeply sloped roofs. This makes commercial properties especially prone to collapse.

One square-foot of dry snow weighs about three pounds, while wet snow can add anywhere from 12 to 21 pounds per square foot of weight on your roof. Weight adds up fast as snow accumulates. 

Heavy snow load can put a dangerous level of stress on the structural integrity of a roof. Too much pressure can lead to cracked rafters, twisted trusses, and leaky ceilings. It can push a building out of plumb or, worst of all, trigger a total collapse.

Here’s what you can do to protect your business this winter:

Check with an engineer. Even if you haven’t noticed any warning signs, it’s still a good idea to have your building evaluated for structural safety. A qualified engineer can offer recommendations for how often your structure should be evaluated based on its age and construction. Always consult an engineer if your building shows any sign of structural damage, like cracked trusses or rafters. 

Hire professionals. Think twice before sending your regular maintenance team onto an icy, snowy roof to remove snow build-up. Contract with a professional firm that uses OSHA-approved fall protection and has proper insurance coverage for any rooftop work.

If you have a newer roof, double check with your roofing contractor to find the best way to remove snow from your roof without voiding the warranty.

A roof collapse can occur without warning. Protect your building and the people inside with prompt and proper snow removal. There’s no simple way to know how much snow is too much for your roof — it depends on the depth and density of the snow and the spacing of the rafters and trusses. 

Farming tips for avoiding manure runoff

Many livestock owners need to spread manure, even during the winter months. But winter snowfall and spring thaws can create challenges for manure management. When manure isn’t effectively absorbed into the soil, it can run off into surface water, ditches, and streams.

That means farmers must be attentive to the weather forecast when spreading manure. Manure should not be spread when the forecast is calling for rain or during a warming trend when snow is expected to melt.

Farmers also should avoid spreading manure on ice-packed ground. When the snowfall is interspersed with periods of rain and freezing, the ground may become saturated and frozen to the point where manure can’t effectively soak into the soil.

All in all, winter is a particularly risky time to be applying manure, and farmers are advised to wait for favorable conditions if they have the storage space. If soil is wet or frozen and a manure application just can’t wait, take special steps to reduce the risk:
  • Select the flattest fields: 2% slope for liquid manure, 6% slope for solid
  • Exceed minimum setback distances along streams and other boundaries whenever possible
  • Till along the end of the field and contours to create furrows to help capture runoff
  • Apply manure on fields with the most crop residue
  • Avoid applying to fields where furrows are full of ice and snow
  • Keep application rate low to avoid runoff or ponding during application
  • When possible, work manure into the soil immediately after application
Livestock owners should have contingency plans in place for disposing of manure when their own fields aren’t ready. Those plans might include a neighboring manure storage facility or neighboring farm fields.

Finally, know who to call if a runoff event does occur. Know your state’s spill hotline and call on their emergency resources when you need help.

Stay bright when hanging holiday lights

Shawn Miller was hanging Christmas lights at his mother’s home, decorating the trees that lined her front yard. As Shawn tossed lights up into the trees, one of the strings hit an overhead power line, sending voltage down into his body. Miller lost his left hand and suffered other serious injuries in the accident.

Today, he shares his story and speaks out on behalf of the Energy Education Council, a nonprofit dedicated to electrical safety. Follow these key safety tips for hanging your holiday lights this season:

  1. Use only lights that are intended for outdoor use. And use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) extension cord. GFCIs cut off power instantly, saving you from shock if an electrical problem occurs.
  2. Wait for a calm, dry day to hang your lights. It’s too hazardous to be on a ladder during wind, rain, or snow. 
  3. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends that no more than three strands be hooked together unless the directions indicate otherwise. Be careful not to overload extension cords and power strips either.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings and stay clear of overhead power lines.
  5. Don’t staple through cords. This can damage the internal insulation and lead to fires. Use zip ties or specially designed light clips.
  6. Consider alternatives to hanging holiday lights, such as lawn d├ęcor, lights in low-level shrubbery, or color-changing flood lights. 
  7. Holiday lights aren’t designed for year-round exposure. Bring them indoors when the season is over.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in November and December each year, more than 15,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorating. Stay safe so you can enjoy all that the holidays have to offer.

Six tips to reduce desk strain and pain

Our bodies aren’t designed to sit all day. That’s why office workers are frequently plagued by complaints of sore shoulders, leg discomfort, and neck pain.

Limit your desk strain with these 6 tips:

1.    Keep moving. Take a break every hour or so for a mini workout. Stand up and stretch, do some squats, or even a few pushups if your space allows. 

A NIOSH study found that regular, five-minute breaks throughout the day increased productivity while reducing sore eyes and upper body pain.

2.    Walk and talk. Get your coworkers in on the action and take those one-on-one meetings outside for a walk.

3.    Look away. Staring at a computer screen all day can strain your eyes. Some doctors recommend a 20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen and refocus on an object in the distance for at least 20 seconds.

4.    Sit right. Adjust your desk chair so your feet can rest comfortably on the floor and your knees are about level with your hips. If your chair doesn’t offer lumbar support, place a cushion behind your back, or order an attachable lumbar cushion.

5.    Square it up. Your monitor should sit squarely in front of your chair, not off to the side. Position your monitor an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen just below eye level.

6.    Stand up. Try standing while you work. There are a variety of repositionable desks on the market that allow you to raise and lower your desk height throughout the day.

If you feel strain or discomfort at your desk, talk to your employer about ergonomic adjustments and alternatives. Chances are your employer will be receptive to small investments that improve your productivity and your health.

Keep it merry with holiday event insurance

'Tis the season for special events, and the time of year when people are most eager to support a good cause.

If you’re planning to deck the halls with a holiday party or fundraiser, make sure you protect your organization from liability claims with a special event insurance policy and earn yourself a spot on the “nice” list.

Check with your agent if you’re planning any of these common events:

Christmas galas, pictures with Santa, nativity scenes, holiday carolers, craft shows: The list of holiday happenings goes on and on. But before you string the lights and flip the switch on your holiday event, take a moment to check with your agent and make sure you’re covered.

Tree lots: Enjoy the magical moments as families pick their favorite tree or cut their own. It is kind of you to assist in wrapping the tree, but stay clear of loading. Even though you bring good tidings, it may result with a property damage claim.

Wagon and sleigh rides: You can go over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house safely with the help of a special event policy. By meeting a few basic guidelines such as proper siding and railings, you can be sure you’re covered as you make your way through the snow.    

Don’t get caught without a SECURA Special Event insurance policy the night before Christmas. Because nothing says holiday humbug like a liability dispute.

Combined effort means a bigger donation to breast cancer research

When we work together, our individual actions have a greater impact. That’s the case with our annual One by One campaign. Our agents, associates, and social media fans came together to help us support the fight against breast cancer.

The independent agents we partner with played a key role in the campaign. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, 2014, we donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) for each new MILE-STONE® home and auto policy and Specialty Lines account they wrote.

Our social media fans and followers also joined the campaign by posting photos, sharing quotes, and spreading the message to help us increase funds.

Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we gave nearly $25,000 this year, making our six-year total more than $131,000 to the BCRF.

See a list of those we honored with our donation.

To everyone who participated: thank you for helping us support this vital cause.

5 tips for tractor maintenance in fall

Maintaining your tractor can add years to its life, increase its value, and keep you safer. As the fall work season winds down, take some time to care for your machinery.
  1. Do an inspection 
    Check the tire inflation and inspect all belts and hoses. Replace any belts or hoses that appear damaged or cracked, and replace the seals if any fittings are leaking.
  2. Change the fluids
    Tractor usage is measured in hours, not miles, and most newer tractors are designed to run up to 500 hours before the oil needs changing. That said, plan to change your fluids and filters at least once yearly, even if your tractor doesn’t get that much use. If the tractor is expected to sit all winter, fresh oil prevents corrosion or damage that can otherwise be caused by contaminated fluids.

Now that's scary: 6 tips for safely carving pumpkins

Hand injuries ramp up during Halloween. Carving jack o’ lanterns is a fun family tradition, but pumpkin carving accidents can cause serious cuts, puncture wounds, and damage to nerves and tendons.

Prevent a trip to the emergency room by following these tips: 

  1. Skip the knife. Kids like to be hands on, so give them a pumpkin to decorate with paint, glitter, or markers, instead of carving.
  2. Supervise. If you’ve decided your kids are ready to carve, supervise carefully and coach them through the process. Encourage them to work slowly and follow the good carving habits listed below. Even teenagers should have a parent present.
  3. Use the right tools. Research shows that the pumpkin carving tools found in holiday kits cause fewer and less severe injuries than regular kitchen knives.* Consumer Reports also gives these kits a thumbs up for effectiveness, without being overly sharp. 
  4. Saw, don’t slice. When carving a pumpkin, saw back and forth with gentle force. Applying a lot of force or trying to make big slices increases the chance of injury.
  5. Cut away. Cut away from the hand holding the pumpkin. Otherwise, the knife could hit a soft spot in the pumpkin and continue right into your hand. Ouch!
  6. Dry off. Simply put, pumpkin guts are slimy and slippery. And that leads to accidents. Keep a good supply of towels nearby so you can keep your pumpkin dry and your grip steady.
Once your pumpkin is carved and ready for the window, place battery operated lights or glow sticks inside. These are safer, longer-lasting alternative to candles.

* The Safety of Pumpkin Carving Tools, Preventive Medicine, 2004, vol. 38, iss. 6.

Teen riders: How to be a good passenger

Teen drivers get lots of advice about how to drive safely and avoid distractions. But you probably don’t hear much about how to be a good passenger.

Most states have restrictions on the number of passengers new teen drivers can have with them in the car. Why? Because passengers can be a serious distraction.

Help keep yourself and the driver safe by being an engaged passenger: 
  • Hang up. Other people’s phone conversations are distracting. If you’re on the phone, the driver can’t plug her ears or walk away. Be considerate and keep your phone calls short and quiet.
  • Be the button pusher. Be the designated person in charge of the phone or navigation system. Help the driver fight distraction by answering their phone for them (if they insist) or managing the playlist.
  • Chillax. Sometimes traffic gets dicey. Keep the screams, the gasps, and the “OMGs!” to yourself. Yelling will not help the driver get through an emergency situation. 
  • Buckle up. In most states, seat belts are required by law. Don’t be the reason your friend gets pulled over by the police. Wear your seat belt every time. Better yet, be the positive peer pressure that makes everyone else (including the driver) wear theirs too.
  • Wait for the right time. Save the tough conversations and potential arguments until you’ve reached your destination.
  • Be aware. There’s a big difference between backseat driving (being critical) and keeping a second set of eyes on the road. Be a good co-pilot by staying aware of what’s going on outside the vehicle.
Truth is, your behavior is just as important as the driver’s behavior when you’re on the road. It’s your job to help them focus.

Before you turn up the heat

A properly maintained furnace not only runs better, it’s safer.

Make annual furnace maintenance part of your regular routine. Maintenance improves your furnace performance and your comfort, and it’s important for your well-being too.

A professional furnace tune-up should include the following:
  • Check the system cycle to make sure it starts, operates, and shuts down properly
  • Check gas connections and gas pressure
  • Check vent system for blocks, leaks, or damage
  • Check air gills and louvers for blockage
  • Check burners for proper ignition and flame; clean if necessary
  • Check drain system for blocks or leaks
  • Check blower wheel and clean if necessary
  • Test voltage and current on the motor
  • Check wiring for damage
  • Check and replace filters (see do-it-yourself below)
Monitor carbon dioxide
A proper furnace inspection should include a carbon monoxide leak test. This odorless, colorless gas can cause serious injury or death. You also should install carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home for constant monitoring.

Shut it down
If your furnace starts making new, unfamiliar sounds or emits an unusual odor, shut it down and call for an inspection. Keep an eye out for visible signs of malfunction, such as burns or rust. Unusual amounts of moisture on the insides of your windows also may indicate your furnace isn’t working.

Do-it-yourself
Clean or change the air filters in your furnace or central air conditioner once a month. A dirty filter increases energy costs and can lead to equipment malfunction.

4 steps to prevent garage fires

Garage fires spread farther and cause more injuries than fires that start anywhere else in the home, according to FEMA. 

Garages often are full of paints, solvents, and other chemicals that will fuel a flame. Plus, they are generally home to tools and large appliances that can generate heat and ignite a fire.

Help prevent fires (and slow the spread if one occurs) by making safe choices:

Step one: Charge safely 
Garage fires are most often caused by electrical malfunctions, typically due to damaged wires, shorts, and overloaded circuits. When charging tools, only plug one tool into an outlet at a time. Check your extension cords for damage before use, and never use an extension cord as a long-term power source.

Step two: Store safely 
If you can, store oils, gasoline, and varnishes in a backyard shed, away from your home. If not, be sure these items are stored well away from appliances and tool chargers. Don’t leave oily rags lying around either. Store them in a well-covered metal can or hang them outside to dry before disposal.

Step three: Install a heat detector 
Smoke alarms are not designed for use in garages. Instead, install a heat detector that will alert you when ambient temperatures reach a certain point, indicating a fire.

Step four: Upgrade construction 
For attached garages, install a 20-minute fire-rated door between the garage and the house. Cover the wall that attaches to your home with ½-inch gypsum board. Do the same to the ceiling if you have living space above the garage.

And as always, it’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in your garage, preferably close to an exit door.

Get involved during Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Have some fun to help us grow our donation

Through our annual One by One campaign, we’ve been spreading awareness about breast cancer since August. This month, we’re increasing our efforts to get the word out and raise funds in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

During October, our social media activity is tied to our donation, so the more you engage with us, the more we donate! Help us raise funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) by interacting with us. Here’s how:
  • Like SECURA’s Facebook page. We’ll donate $1 to the BCRF for each new like in October. 
  • Pinkify your profile. Turn your profile picture pink to spread awareness, and we’ll give another dollar to the BCRF. 
  • Identify our pink mystery photos to be entered into our grand prize drawing for an iPad. Simply comment with your guess on our Facebook page. We post a new photo every Wednesday. 
  • Check back weekly for other fun ways to engage, like sharing our posts or telling us your favorite inspirational quote. 
 You also can spread the word to others. Simply share this video with your friends: bit.ly/secura1by1

Top 10 tips for fall garden cleanup

As another summer comes to an end, most homeowners see their vegetable gardens and flower beds lose their luster. It is tempting to wait until spring to tackle the chore of removing those frost-bitten leaves and the occasional overripe tomato left on the vine. However, proper cleanup done in the fall can improve overall plant health for the following year, aid in minimizing unwanted pests, and eliminate soil-borne diseases that can overwinter in even the coldest regions.

Make these 10 tips part of your fall routine to improve the productivity of fruiting plants and enhance the beauty of ornamentals for next year’s growing season.

Tips and tools for safely cleaning gutters

Cleaning your gutters is among the most laborious of fall maintenance chores. Falling leaves from surrounding trees will not only cover your lawn, but land in your home’s gutters too. The result can be overflowing rain water that often leads to flooded basements, weakened foundations, and other costly water damage. Depending on the construction of your home, cleaning the gutters may be a simple task involving a bucket, ladder, and pair of gloves. Other homes, however, appear to require skilled aerial acrobats from the Barnum & Bailey Circus to reach the high areas safely.

No matter your circumstance, it’s important to have the right tools and follow some basic safety precautions.

Helpful tools
  • A ladder – it should be secure with wide rungs for stability, and equipped with proper locking mechanisms. Also make sure the ladder is tall enough; you should never stand on the top rung or highest step. An extension ladder should always have at least three rungs over the top of the roof to allow you to get on and off with ease. Move the ladder often to avoid overreaching, and wear secure protective footwear – never flip flops or sandals.
  • Waterproof work gloves – will help protect hands from foul-smelling debris and potential encounters with stinging insects.
  • A small trowel – like one used in the garden, will help scoop out materials.
  • A high-pressure garden hose – can help clear smaller remaining leaves.
  • Safety glasses – they’re a good idea too.
  • A five-gallon bucket – tethered to a rope, it can contain all the waste and be lowered to a trusty helper below to empty into a wheelbarrow before hoisting it back up. A leaf blower – some are equipped to help the process along and may require the use of hearing protection.

If you live in a heavily wooded area where leaves and debris from overhead trees are inevitable, or cleaning your gutters proves to be a dangerous aerial escapade, it may be time to consider hiring a professional, but make sure they have proper insurance coverage.

You can also purchase specially designed gutters or attachments to minimize the need to climb that ladder. But, do your research. According to Consumer Reports, many of the professional products are disappointing, while some do-it-yourself products found at local home improvement stores don’t fare much better.

Tree stand safety tips for the big hunt

“I always use a safety harness,” said Scott, an avid deer hunter from Wisconsin. Scott knows all too well how quickly a beloved pastime can turn to tragedy, recalling how his nephew broke his back falling from a tree stand. “I clip onto a rope connected to the tree before I even take one step up the tree,” he said. “And I stay clipped in until I’m back on the ground.”

Falls from tree stands continue to be the leading cause of injury for hunters. The good news is that these falls are preventable. Hunting from a tree stand allows you to have a better view of your target while avoiding detection from your prey, but take several safety precautions.

Use a full body harness
82 percent of hunters who fall from tree stands are not wearing a full body harness, according to the Tree Stand Manufacturers Association. Several models are available so you can find the best fit while making sure your movement is unrestricted.

Take a free online safety course
A few minutes of your time can test your knowledge and teach you a few things too.
Tree Stand Safety Course

Follow these additional tips
  • Purchase a tree stand with a large enough platform and seating area to help you feel more secure. Read any weight restrictions and plan accordingly.
  • Keep your hands free when climbing. Use a rope to haul up your firearm or bow. Always keep firearms unloaded until you are securely in place in your tree stand.
  • Select a healthy, straight tree that will work well with the guidelines outlined for your tree stand specifications.
  • Let people know where you'll be hunting, where your vehicle is parked, and when you intend to return. When possible, hunt with a buddy.
  • Carry a cell phone, walkie-talkie, or other means of calling for help.
  • Take your time and know your limitations. If it feels insecure or too high, it is.

Follow these tips and stay safe while enjoying the outdoors. For further tips and information, inquire with your state’s Department of Natural Resources or visit the Treestand Manufacturers Association website.

Top 10 chain saw safety tips

The fall season is a prime time for clearing out dead or diseased trees and damaged branches. In addition to personal home use, chain saws are a necessary tool for industries like forestry, landscaping, and utility and construction workers.

The potential for injury is high. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that the number of chain saw accidents requiring medical attention increased from 70,000 to 135,000 annually over a five-year period. Avoid injuries by following these 10 important safety tips.

1.    Keep the chain sharp and make sure all fittings are lubricated and properly tightened.

2.    Refill the gas reservoir a minimum of 10 feet away from any ignition sources. Never smoke while operating a chain saw, and never fuel a saw while it is running.

3.    Start the saw on the ground, never while resting it on your leg.

4.    Clear the area of any obstructions, such as rocks, nails, or other metal before cutting.

5.    Wear proper protective equipment, including hand, foot, leg, eye, face, hearing, and head protection. Legs and feet receive the highest number of injuries.

6.    Do not wear loose-fitting clothing.

7.    Be certain of the trajectory of falling trees and limbs, and plan accordingly before cutting. Falling branches and trees result in many injuries.

8.    Do not cut with the tip of the saw, which produces kick-back.
  
9.    Consumer Reports recommends only cutting tree limbs you can reach from the ground.

10.    Never operate a gas-powered chain saw in confined quarters where carbon monoxide can build up.

Practicing these tips is an important part of maintaining safety, reducing workers’ comp claims, and minimizing injuries. The University of Minnesota Extension provides more in-depth safety tips, including felling techniques and a daily operation checklist. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also can provide additional safety information.

Tips for fall home maintenance

Soon, leaves will be falling and, for many, especially those in the Upper Midwest, snow may be looming in the extended weather forecast. It’s time to consider several home maintenance tips that can save on costly repairs in the future.

Clean gutters.
Clogged gutters cause overflowing water during rainstorms that can result in wet basements and damaged foundations. In freezing weather, ice dams can form, creating excessive weight that bends gutters and can damage roofing and soffits. Be sure to take proper safety precautions when climbing ladders by following the rule of three – always have two feet and one hand, or both hands and one foot on the rungs at all times.

Top 10 tailgating tips

Are you ready for some football? With college and professional seasons getting underway, many will be packing up the truck and heading for the stadium parking lot. Beyond wearing your team colors and preparing your favorite foods ahead of time, there are several tips to make your time on the tailgate more enjoyable and safe.

1. Organize cooking utensils. Use a tool box with drawers to transport and organize spatulas, bottle openers, tongs, skewers and the like. Other drawers can store condiments, spices, plastic zip baggies, toothpicks, and other useful supplies.

2. Freeze water bottles. They will help keep your perishables fresh and you can drink the water when they melt.

3. Maintain food safety. Tailgate staples like potato and macaroni salads, chicken, and steak can spoil quickly. Keep refrigerated items cool with ice and insulate cooked foods.

4. Put soup in a large thermos. It keeps it hot, makes dispensing easy, eliminates spills, and takes up minimal space.

5. Dispose of hot coals properly. Be sure charcoal is cooled prior to disposing or putting back in your vehicle. Bring a metal pail with a lid to store remaining coals. Many stadiums have designated receptacles for disposing of hot coals.

6. Bring a fire extinguisher. Even the most seasoned of grill-masters needs to be prepared.

7. Check grills for safety. Propane and charcoal grills should be inspected prior to leaving for the game. Make sure all hoses, gauges, and vents are working properly.

8. Bring a large empty plastic tote. Line it with a garbage bag and use it as a trash bin. Remove the full bag, and then use the tote to quickly and efficiently pack up supplies.

9. Bring a large helium balloon. Float it on a long string from your vehicle as a familiar marker so friends know how to find you.

10. Drink responsibly. This is the most important of all tips. Keep you and your family safe, and ensure that you treat others with kindness and respect.

No matter which team you’re rooting for, stay safe and have fun as you cheer them on to victory. You’ll find that this pre-game ritual can be just as much fun as watching the game, especially if your team is on the losing side.

Back to school safety

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. For many students, the prospect of a new school year can be exciting. For others, it can be daunting, especially if they are starting at a new school or have struggled in the past with being bullied. As children prepare to head back to class, keep these important tips in mind.

•    Get a health check. Schedule a physical and eye exam for your child. Many school districts also require that your child has current immunizations and may need documentation.

•    Fuel the body. Studies show that a healthy breakfast improves students’ alertness which can lead to improved grades and result in a healthier self-image.

•    Set limits. Provide a properly fitted backpack, and avoid overloading it with heavy books and supplies that can result in back and shoulder injuries.

•    Wear a helmet. This is true for bicyclists any time of the year, but especially when heading to and from school when traffic is at its heaviest.

•    Practice bus safety. When waiting for the bus, stand six feet back from the curb. If your child needs to cross the street in front of the bus, make sure the bus driver can see them. Teach them to still look both ways for oncoming traffic before crossing, even if the bus driver has the flashing red lights and stop sign displayed.

•    Address bullying. One of the most anguishing discoveries is finding out your child is the victim of a bully. No child should be fearful of going to school. Contact his or her teacher or school counselor if the problem continues. In some cases, the authorities may need to be involved. Visit the National Safety Council for further bully-prevention tips.

•    Keep talking. Ask questions about how school is going. Be direct and ask if your child is encountering problems. Be supportive and discuss ways to address any problems.

Creating a sense of security is important in fostering a good learning environment. Find more safety tips for your child at www.safekids.org.

Top 10 ingenious camping ideas

Some of us like “roughing it” in the outdoors, but having small conveniences can make the experience of camping in the back woods a lot more pleasurable, and safer too.

As summer comes to a close and you’re planning that last excursion, check out these top 10 camping ideas.
  1. Make an easy fire starter. Take a cardboard egg carton, fill each compartment with a quick-light charcoal briquette, and close it. Light it on fire. 
  2. Don’t touch! Familiarize yourself with poisonous plants in your area. Look online and print photos to keep in your backpack. Some common varieties are Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. Consider purchasing an identification book that also can help you identify native wildflowers, trees, and birds to make your camping experience educational too.
  3. Make a natural tick repellant. Mix one part tea tree oil and two parts water in a spray bottle. Spray on the bottom of pant legs. 
  4. Freeze jugs of water. Not only will they keep your perishables fresh in a cooler but, as they gradually melt, you’ll have refreshing cold water to drink. 
  5. Make a lantern. Strap a head lamp to a jug of water to illuminate your tent. Make sure the lamp is facing inward - it will shine brightly. 
  6. Use solar lights. Inexpensive solar-powered lights placed near tent stakes, like those used to edge a garden path, can help you avoid tripping. 
  7. Check firewood regulations. Many areas restrict wood from outside a certain range. This is in an effort to minimize the threat of invasive species, like the Emerald Ash Borer, which are devastating many hardwood forests. Always check the DNR website prior to heading out. 
  8. Bring an area rug. It works great on the bottom of your tent to keep sand and debris at bay. 
  9. Make a match container. Place matches in an airtight plastic container to keep matches dry, and tape a piece of medium grit sandpaper to the outside as a striking surface. 
  10. Dress in layers. Always dress one layer warmer than you think you’ll need. Avoid wearing cotton, as it retains moisture. Also, bring a waterproof jacket and pants. 
Perhaps the best advice for any camper is to remember that heading to the outdoors is meant to refuel and refresh our souls. Reconnect with nature and your family, and build memories to last a lifetime.

Have some fun to help us spread awareness about breast cancer: Join our One by One campaign


August is the start of our sixth annual One by One campaign to support breast cancer research. We’ve donated more than $100,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) so far and, with your help, we’ll contribute even more.

We’re making it easy — and fun — for you to help us spread awareness from now through October. You can participate by identifying our pink mystery photos on Facebook. Each Wednesday, we’ll post a new pink photo and ask you to guess what it is. If you guess correctly, you could win a prize! Plus, everyone who submits an answer will be entered into a drawing for an iPad at the end of October.

We’ll share other ways for you to get involved throughout the campaign — watch for more details on social media.

Visit our Facebook page, join our campaign, and let’s fight breast cancer together.

8 ways to prevent forklift accidents

Each year, thousands of injuries are sustained from forklift or powered industrial truck accidents, and sadly, several deaths. Many commercial and farming operations can benefit from implementing proper safety protocols, resulting in reduced worker injuries and workers’ compensation claims.

  • Provide training. Employers are required to provide training on how to properly use a forklift. Provide written, video, or lecture training, combined with hands-on demonstration. Training should include: 
    • Weight restrictions and load stability parameters. 
    • Protocol for pedestrians and workers in the area of operation. 
    • Proper navigation of door openings and other hazardous areas, such as ramps and narrow aisles. 
    • Proper stacking of loads. 
    • Any other operating instructions, warnings, or precautions listed in the operator’s manual for the type of forklift being used. 
    • Employers must certify that each operator has received training and evaluate each operator at least once every three years. 
  • Provide supervision. For those first operating a forklift, be sure to provide plenty of supervision and guidance from an experienced and trained operator. 
  • Make no exceptions. No one under the age of 18 should operate a forklift. It is a violation of Federal law. 
  • Provide ventilation. Remember that forklifts are often gas-powered, meaning that carbon monoxide can build up in enclosed areas. 
  • Schedule checkups. Routinely check to make sure the forklift is maintained properly. This includes the horn, lights, tire pressure, hydraulics, brakes, steering, and operating systems. 
  • Never allow passengers. Unless your forklift is designed for more than one operator, never give a ride. 
  • Watch overhead. Consider doorways, wires, and other overhead obstructions that may interfere with a raised load. 
  • No stunts allowed. Never tolerate horseplay or reckless driving, no matter how experienced an operator may be. Consider enforcing disciplinary action to emphasize the seriousness of the offense. 
Learn more about forklift safety from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration website, and also check out the frequently asked questions. Do your part to keep everyone in the workplace safe.

Self-inspections increase workplace safety

Employers have a legal, moral, and financial obligation to provide a safe workplace. Setting up a routine workplace inspection program is one way to reduce workplace injuries and control costs. Inspections should take place on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis:

• Daily: Employees check their own workstations and equipment
• Weekly: Supervisors tour the work area to look for safety concerns
• Monthly: A safety leader or committee conducts a scheduled inspection and recommends corrective actions

Safety committees 
Self-inspection programs work best when they include employee involvement. One way to encourage employee leadership is to establish a safety committee.

Typically, this group of employees would meet monthly to discuss workplace hazards and action steps that could make the workplace safer. This team can also be charged with doing a monthly safety walk-through for all areas of the work site.

To be effective, members of the safety committee should have appropriate safety training and experience. It’s also important the committee has strong management support.

Management can demonstrate safety as a priority by implementing the measures recommended by the safety committee. If corrective actions are not planned, leaders should engage in conversation with the committee, explaining why the company is not acting on a safety request and outlining alternate solutions that could be made.

Employee responsibility 
Everyone is responsible for creating safe working conditions, whether you’re part of a safety committee or not. Employees can protect themselves and their coworkers by doing the following:
• Inspect work areas and tools at the beginning of each workday
• Report any unsafe conditions to the supervisor
• Attend all workplace safety sessions
• Wear all recommended personal protective equipment

Self-inspections are key to any safety program. An inspection program is a proactive way to identify and address hazardous conditions before an accident occurs.

SECURA named to Ward’s Top 50 Performers

This week, SECURA was recognized as one of Ward’s 50 top performers for achieving outstanding financial performance over a five-year period.

This recognition highlights our overall strength, which is something policyholders can rely on. They benefit from choosing an insurance company with a history of profitability and growth. It means they can feel confident we’ll be there if they have a claim and trust that they’ll be taken care of.

“We’re a mutual company and that means we put the best interests of our policyholders at the heart of all we do,” said Dave Gross, SECURA President and CEO. “This acknowledgment speaks to the power of that philosophy.”

Annually, Ward analyzes more than 3,000 property-casualty insurance companies in the United States and identifies top performers. Each Ward’s 50 company has achieved superior performance over the five years analyzed.

Getting behind the wheel as you age

As we get older, certain natural health changes could impact our ability to drive. We tend to lose strength and coordination, which can make it difficult to safely control a car.

For example, pain in your neck could make it hard to change lanes or look for cross traffic at intersections. Stiffness in your legs could impact how fast you switch between the gas and brake pedals. Hearing and vision issues also are common safety concerns for older drivers.

Be proactive about evaluating your own abilities. Get your vision checked regularly. Ask your doctor for his or her opinion on your ability to drive safely, and find out if any of your medications could impact your clarity and judgment on the road.

Plan for safety 
Know your limitations, and avoid certain driving situations that make you uncomfortable. Choose alternate routes or drive times when traffic will be lighter. Whenever possible, limit your driving after dark and in bad weather.

You might also consider taking a driver safety course, like the ones sponsored by AARP. Cars and traffic laws have changed over the years, and a refresher course can bring you up-to-date on the latest vehicle safety gear and new rules of the road.
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Listen to concerns 
Be willing to listen if loved ones express concerns about your driving. If someone close to you is asking questions about your ability to drive, but you still feel capable, seek out a professional evaluation.

An occupational therapist or driver rehabilitation specialist can provide a neutral third party opinion to help you make your decision. A therapist may also be able to suggest vehicle modifications or tools to improve your safety and keep you driving longer. If you don’t know where to find these services, ask your doctor or call your nearest aging resource center.

Driving safely through work zones: Protect yourself and construction workers

Roadway construction zones are dangerous, and not just for the people who work there. In fact, drivers are the most frequent fatality in work zone crashes. Over the last five years, more than 4,400 people died in work zone crashes in the U.S., and 85 percent of them were drivers or passengers.

Drivers must stay attentive to safely navigate the barrels, signs, and lane changes that are common in work zones. Being safe in a work zone means paying attention to three S’s: Speed, Stress, and Space.

Speed

Slow down as soon as you see road construction signs. You’ll be in the work zone sooner than you think.
Follow posted speed limits, and don’t ramp back up to normal speed until you see road signs indicating it’s safe to do so.

Stress
Expect delays. Plan ahead and give yourself extra time to get where you’re going.
Manage your stress. Keep your cool. If someone is tailgating you, flash your headlights on and off (to illuminate your tail lights), or lightly tap on your brakes. If safe, pull over and let them pass.

Space
Leave a safety zone. When stopped in traffic, leave a cushion between you and the car in front of you. As a good rule of thumb, you should be able to see the bottom of the tires of the vehicle in front of you.
Stay alert. Watch traffic around you and be prepared to react. (Be disciplined and don’t let yourself gawk at stopped cars or construction work.)
Expect the unexpected in case workers or work vehicles enter your lane without warning.

Everyone needs to take responsibility for work zone safety. Your work crews and highway departments are working hard to create safe conditions. Do your part and stay alert.

New President & CEO plans to build on great momentum

Dave Gross takes the reins as the fifth President & CEO in SECURA’s 114-year history. He has been at former CEO John Bykowski’s side for the past 17 years, helping shape the company’s exceptional people and service. He plans to build on that strong momentum. 

Dave's career spans more than 30 years in the insurance industry in executive leadership roles where he contributed strategically, and led sales and underwriting operations.

Since joining SECURA in 1997, Dave successfully guided new product development, state expansion, and agency partnerships, ultimately helping profitably grow our company to the nearly $500 million in sales (direct written premium) that it will be by year end. In addition, he helped shape our people-focused culture, fostering exceptional service to agents and policyholders.

His people focus doesn’t stop at work. Dave is active in the community as well. He currently serves on the board of directors and the fund development committee for Big Brothers Big Sisters. He also was a board member for Junior Achievement – Fox Cities and the YMCA Fox Cities.

John Bykowski retired after 17 years leading the company. He will remain as SECURA’s Chairman of the Board.

Congratulations to Dave on his new role!

Taking work calls while driving is risky business for employers

It’s convenient to take business calls on the road, particularly for employees who travel a lot. Employees may think they can multitask, increase their availability, and get more done by taking calls en route to a customer or on the commute home.

That’s a natural attitude, but it’s a dangerous one — studies have found that drivers who use a cell phone have a similar impairment to drunk driving. And it can get your company into trouble.

A growing number of lawsuits are holding businesses accountable when their employees are involved in automobile crashes while using cell phones. Juries have awarded victims and their families upwards of $20 million in accidents linked to work-related cell phone use.

Employer liability 
If a person has an accident while on a business call, that person’s employer could be held liable. This is true whether or not the employee was using a work-issued phone. It’s also true if the employee is driving a personal car, to a personal function — if the call is tied to work, the employer could be targeted in a lawsuit.

That’s why many employers are implementing cell phone policies that either prohibit employees from using handheld cell phones while driving or ban them from taking any work-related calls at all.

To create or enhance a cell phone policy for your business, use these resources from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. You’ll find a toolkit and sample distracted driving policies for employers, as well as similar resources for teens, parents, and educators.

Learn more about the dangers of distracted driving here.

Teach gun safety at home and away

Talk to your children about gun safety, even if you don’t own a gun. No matter how safe your family is with firearms, you can’t count on other households to be as careful.

Approximately half of all U.S. homes have guns. And, according to a study published in Pediatrics journal, nearly 1.7 million kids live in a home where firearms are kept loaded and unsecured.

Teach your kids to take these steps from the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program if they see a gun:
1. Stop.
2. Don’t touch the gun.
3. Leave the area.
4. Tell an adult.

Unfortunately, research shows that most kids can’t resist touching a gun, even when they know they shouldn’t. Repeat the message often and impress the importance on your kids.

Talk to other parents too. Before you allow a playdate, ask the other child’s parents if they have guns and how the guns are stored.

Toy guns and video games 
The Parents magazine gun-safety pledge recommends parents talk to children about gun safety by the time they turn three, with clear directions to never touch a gun, even if they think it’s a toy. (Child development experts differ on what age children can reliably distinguish between real and toy guns.)

As kids get older, talk to them about pretend gun play and guns in video games. Have a dialog about how deadly real guns can be.

Safe storage
If you have guns, store them safely. That means unloaded and locked, and separate from the ammunition, which also should be stored in a lockbox. Your children should not be able to find the keys.

The Matthew Bellamy Project ships free gun locks to anyone who asks. Free gun locks also may be available from your local law enforcement agency, in partnership with Project ChildSafe.

Power up: Protect yourself when using power tools

The right power tools can make your home improvement projects faster and easier. But any power tool can be dangerous if not used correctly. Keep these safety tips in mind when you use power tools.

1. Keep things sharp
Cutting tools work best when properly sharpened. Using a dull tool increases the risk of injury because you need more pressure and leverage to make it work.

2. Care for the cord
Damaged power cords can cause shock or electrocution. Inspect the cord before use, and don’t use the tool if the cord is cracked or frayed. Protect cords from heat, oil, and sharp edges during storage.

 3. Unplug it 
Even if a tool is switched off, you still run the risk of an accidental start. Unplug tools when not in use and never change blades or bits when the tool is plugged in.

4. Don’t force it
Have patience. Power tools will perform better (and more safely) at the rate for which they are intended to work.

5. Avoid electric shock
Don’t expose power tools to rain or wet conditions; a wet tool increases the likelihood of shock. If you must work in damp conditions, plug your tool into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). A GFCI senses changes in the electrical current and instantly turns a tool off if you’re at risk for shock. Upgrade the outlets in your garage and shop with GFCIs, and use a plug-in GFCI when the work area isn’t permanently equipped with one.

6. Keep things neat
A messy work environment invites accidents. Give yourself plenty of light and room to work, and keep the floor clear of tripping hazards.

7. Wear ear and eye protection
Use personal safety equipment such as face shields, hearing protection, dust masks, and safety shoes, as appropriate. Power tools stir up dust and debris and you never know when a chip of something will come flying loose. Always use safety glasses to reduce the risk of foreign objects getting in your eyes.

8. Dress properly
Avoid loose clothes or jewelry that could catch in moving parts. Tie up long hair too.

9. Know what you’re doing 
If you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment, get training before you start. Read the manual to understand the specific safety guidelines for the type of tool you’re using.

Safety in reverse: 5 ways to avoid back-up accidents

One of the most dangerous things drivers do every day is backing up. Reportedly, one in four vehicle accidents occur when drivers are going in reverse. Most of these accidents involve vehicle damage, but bodily injury occurs as well. The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency calculates an average of 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries are caused by back-up accidents every year.

Take these steps to prevent accidents when backing up:

• Know your blind spots. In pickup trucks and SUVs, blind spots can extend up to 50 feet behind a vehicle. Remember that mirrors don’t give you the full picture.
• Choose easy-exit parking spots. Find a pull-through parking spot when available or consider backing in to park.
• Walk around. Check behind your vehicle for children, pets, or other objects before you get in.
• Use a spotter. When backing into a difficult spot, use a spotter to help you navigate.
• Increase visibility. Trim bushes or trees near the driveway so you can see any pedestrians that might cross the sidewalk.

Back-up accidents and children 
The child advocacy group Kids and Cars says at least 50 children are backed over every week in the U.S., and some of those accidents are fatal. Drivers need to be attentive and look for kids before backing up.

If children are playing outside, have them stand where you can see them before driving in reverse. Teach kids to look for cars before crossing anyone’s driveway, and remind them never to play in, around, or behind a car. Keep toys out of the driveway so kids aren’t tempted to play there.

Rearview cameras 
By May 2018, back-up cameras will be required on all new cars and light trucks made in the U.S. If you’d like the technology now, add-on rearview camera systems are available at price points ranging from $50 to $300.

Shore leave: Do I need boat insurance?

Don’t count on your homeowners policy to automatically protect your boat — especially when you hit the water (or the road).

Your homeowners insurance provides some very limited coverage for watercraft: theft while on your residence or weather damage only if it’s in a fully enclosed building. To completely protect watercraft that you own, you need additional coverage for your boats, sailboats, and jet skis.

A special endorsement on your homeowners policy or a separate boat insurance policy can insure you against risks like sinking, collision, and theft. But even more importantly, boat insurance provides liability coverage, meaning you’re insured if you injure someone or damage property while operating or transporting your boat.

Ask your agent about the following:

Watercraft, motors, and trailers: Protect the whole package and insure your boat, outboard motor, and trailer as part of your boat insurance.

Boater safety: Some carriers offer discounts for policyholders who’ve completed a boater safety course. Discount or not, safety training is always a good idea. You can even do the course online.

Territory limits: Taking your boat on a big vacation? Check your policy first for any limitations. Common territory limits exclude ocean coverage after a certain number of miles off shore.

New purchases: If you already have boat insurance, it may include a “newly acquired property” provision that would extend coverage to a new boat purchase for a short period of time. No such extensions exist, however, for first-time boat owners. Your best advice is to call your agent before you leave the dealership…whether or not you already own a boat.

When you do purchase a policy, check the exclusions carefully and be sure that you’re protected for all the boating activities you and your family enjoy.

5 ways to protect employees’ ears


Noise is a necessary byproduct of many industrial processes. But employees who are exposed to a lot of it could experience temporary or permanent hearing loss.

If your workplace is particularly loud, OSHA may require that you have a written hearing conservation program in place to protect your workers.

Your program should include the following:

Sound survey 
Employers are required to monitor workplace noise to determine if employees are regularly exposed to 85 decibels or more — even if the noise is only intermittent or occasional. Monitoring should be repeated whenever there is a change in operations or equipment that could impact noise levels.

Audiometric testing 
If employees are exposed to noise levels that average 85 decibels or more, OSHA requires employers to maintain an audiometric testing program. Essentially, this means employees must receive a free baseline hearing test and annual tests thereafter.

If a hearing test determines that the employee has experienced a measurable hearing loss, the employee must be notified, fitted with adequate hearing protection, and required to wear it.

Hearing protectors
Likewise, at the same high noise level, the employer must provide several types of hearing protection at no cost to the employees. (Employees exposed to noise levels of 90 decibels or more are required to wear hearing protection.)

Training 
Furthermore, employees must receive annual training on the effects of noise, the pros and cons of various hearing protectors, care and fit for their hearing protectors, and the purpose of audiometric hearing tests.

Recordkeeping 
Noise exposure measurements must be kept for two years, but records of an employee’s audiometric test results must be kept for the duration of the employee’s employment.

In a flash: Practice home fire drills

If your house is on fire, every second counts. Plan and practice home fire drills so you and your family can get out quickly in a real emergency.

Two ways out 
In a fire, getting out safely might mean more than heading for the nearest door. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, you should have two ways out of any room.

If you have upstairs bedrooms, purchase collapsible escape ladders. Do a practice walkthrough and make sure children are able to open doors and windows and get out on their own.

Get out and stay out 
Get out first and then call for help. Sometimes it only takes 30 seconds for a small flame to turn into a major fire. When a fire occurs, you should exit the house immediately.

Once out, stay out. If someone is missing or a family pet is trapped inside, tell the firefighters. They have the equipment to perform rescues safely.

Practice different scenarios 
Talk about what to do if you have to escape through smoke. Practice crawling close to the floor with your t-shirt or pajama top pulled up to cover your mouth. Smoke contains toxic gases that can cause you to become disoriented or pass out.

When you come to a closed door, feel the doorknob. If it’s hot to the touch, there’s a fire on the other side and you need to find a different way out.

Practice what to do if you can’t get out. Stuff a blanket or towel under the cracks in the door to keep the smoke out. Signal for help at the window using a white shirt or a flashlight.

Remember, fire is fast, hot, dark, and deadly. Installing working smoke alarms dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.

Play smart this summer


Summer’s almost here and that means it’s time for summer rec leagues. But before you send your family out to face down any cut shots or chin music, take a few moments to keep them safe:

Appropriate safety gear. Make sure everyone has and uses the proper equipment for each sport. In other words, don’t send your kid onto the soccer field in baseball cleats.

Maintenance. Scope out the ballpark or field before your kids join an organized sport. Be sure the grounds and equipment are well maintained. The same goes for any safety equipment. Worn out gear will not do an effective job of keeping your child safe.

Knowledgeable adults. Talk to the organizers about injury prevention. Do they enforce the safety equipment rules? Do they know the warning signs of a concussion? Will they limit practice in the worst heat and sun? Ideally, coaches will have first aid and CPR training. But if not, they should still have a sound action plan in case a player gets injured.

Warm-ups and cool downs. Help prevent strains and sprains by taking time for warm-ups and cool-downs. Warm-ups stretch the muscles and get the body ready for competitive play. Cool-downs help loosen muscles that constricted during exercise.

Water. Remind your kids to stay hydrated. Send them off with large, refillable water bottles or sports drinks.

Sun protection. Sunscreen is a must. Just one blistering sunburn before age 18 can double your child’s chances of developing melanoma (a serious form of skin cancer) later in life. If you can, buy extra sunscreen for the coaches to keep on-hand with the rest of the team equipment.

Whether you’re 14 or 44, using some simple good judgment will help keep you safer, and in the game, this summer.


Top three things burglars don’t want


Discourage burglars from targeting your home by implementing security measures based on the top three things burglars don’t want:

1: They don’t want to be seen. 
Install exterior lighting around doors and garages — preferably motion-sensitive flood lights that are too high for a burglar to reach and unscrew the bulbs.

Remove or trim shrubs close to your home that could make hiding places for burglars. Consumer Reports suggests the 3/6 rule: Trim shrubs in front of the house to no higher than three feet off the ground, and trim trees so the lowest branches are at least six feet up.

2: They don’t want to be heard.
Install an alarm system with 24/7 monitoring, if it’s in your budget. If not, consider an un-monitored alarm that sets off a loud noise. This will deter amateur burglars from sticking around.

3: They don’t want to be slowed down.
When it comes to keeping intruders out of the house, the basics matter. Lock your doors and windows to slow burglars down. According to the National Sheriffs’ Association, a four-minute delay generally is sufficient to deter a thief.

Use deadbolts on your doors. Secure sliding glass doors by placing a sturdy dowel inside the door track to prevent it from being opened from the outside. Keep your doors locked at all times if possible, even when you’re home. Get in the habit of locking your windows every time you close them.

Keep your garage door locked too, just the same as any exterior entrance. And lock up any tools or ladders that could be used to break in.

Bonus: Burglars don’t like neighbors. 
Get to know your neighbors. One of your greatest sources of protection is people in your neighborhood who care.

Promote employee safety with emergency drills


The best way to protect your employees is to make sure they’re prepared. If an actual emergency strikes, people may have a harder time thinking clearly. Drills can save lives by showing people what to do, before an emergency occurs.

When conducting a drill, alert employees ahead of time so they know what’s going to happen and how they should respond. Afterward, evaluate the process:

• Were doors unlocked so people could evacuate?
• Were walkways clear of hazards?
• Did employees take the fastest route and avoid the elevators?
• In a tornado drill, was there enough room for everyone in the designated safe area?
• Do you need a better way to communicate the emergency?

If you rely on emergency alarms, make sure they will still work in the event of a power loss. The same goes for exit lights.

Post the safety procedures and instructions for drills somewhere that all employees can easily access in case of an emergency.

Fire safety 
At a minimum, your safety drill should include the fastest emergency evacuation routes. Or design a mock drill in which certain exits become “blocked,” forcing employees to find an alternate exit — similar to what could happen in an actual emergency.

Establish a meeting place so you can account for everyone after an evacuation.

Tornado safety 
Tornadoes can happen anytime, with little warning. Make sure employees know the safest places to take shelter. Identify a windowless area in the center of the building on the lowest floor possible. Basements are best but, if there isn’t a basement, direct employees to an interior closet, bathroom, or hallway.

Many states hold mock tornado warnings. Schools will be conducting safety drills, so it’s a great time to get the adults talking about weather safety at work, too.

Home humidity: battles and balance


Home humidity — it’s a seasonal battle. Too little humidity in the winter, and you’re plagued with dry skin, nosebleeds, and separating floorboards. Too much in the summer, and you’re dealing with mold, mildew, and allergens. 

What’s a homeowner to do? 

One easy first step is to get an in-home “hygrometer” or humidity monitor. There are a variety of inexpensive models on the market, designed to measure the moisture in your house. 

Experts say the ideal in-home humidity level should be between 30 to 50 percent. Less than that and your nasal passages get dry. Go higher and you’ve got ideal breeding conditions for mold and dust mites. 

Your humidity monitor can help you know when it’s time to make adjustments. Once you know your humidity level, here’s how to make changes: 

Drying out 
• Air conditioners – Running an air conditioner will help remove humidity from the air in your home. 

• Dehumidifiers – Designed to pull water from the air, these appliances are great for controlling moisture and limiting mold in large damp spaces. 

• Bathroom vents – A modern bathroom fan pulls moisture out of the wettest area of your home and vents it outside. 

Adding moisture 
• Furnace humidifiers – These add-on appliances work in tandem with your home heating system to keep the air from getting too dry. The humidifier adds moisture to the air and the fan inside your furnace circulates it. 

• Portable humidifiers – These stand-alone appliances are used to add moisture to just one room. 

Of course, humidity plays a role in home comfort, too. Raising humidity in the winter can save money on your energy bills because you feel warmer when there’s more moisture in the air. Meanwhile, dryer homes feel cooler in the summer.

Walk it out: Pedestrian safety


“I was about to cross the street when an approaching car pulled all the way over the crosswalk in order to get a good line of sight into crossing traffic. No big deal, I figured, I’ll just duck behind them. Except the driver must have realized she was too far forward and nearly hit me backing up.” – Jaime, from Green Bay 

According to the CDC, more than 460 pedestrians are struck by a car and require emergency room treatment every day in the U.S. On average, one pedestrian will die every two hours as a result of a traffic crash.

Cross at the corner
Wisconsin recognizes a “crosswalk” to be both marked crossings and unmarked lateral crossings at intersections (where a crosswalk would logically be). Pedestrians in Wisconsin have the right of way at both marked and unmarked crossings, unless crossing signals are present. However, the laws vary by state, so know the rules where you live!

Using the crosswalk is the safest option. Nationally, two out of three pedestrian fatalities occur at non-intersections. Remember to watch for cars traveling in the lane you’re crossing AND cars that might turn into your lane.

Exercise your rights, with caution
If you step into a crosswalk, traffic is expected to stop for you. However, drivers may not obey the rules or may be distracted. Cross when you have room and time to do so safely. Wait for a gap in traffic if you can. Otherwise, look directly at the approaching drivers as you walk, so you know they’ve seen you and are prepared to stop.

Stay visible
Walking after dark increases the danger. One in three pedestrian deaths occur between 8 p.m. and midnight. Take steps to stay visible, such as carrying a flashlight, wearing a blinking red safety light, and/or wearing reflective clothing.

Choosing sides
Always use the sidewalk if one is available. If not, you should walk facing oncoming traffic (the left side of the street). Walking against traffic means you’re less likely to be surprised by an oncoming vehicle and may have more time to react if the driver doesn’t see you.

Stay attentive
Above all, pay attention to traffic moving around you. It’s never a good idea to walk and text at the same time — but especially not when fast moving cars are nearby.

Gardener diseases: Can you dig it?


Gardening certainly is good for your health. All that fresh air and exercise…  It’s not surprising so many studies show that gardening has both physical and mental health benefits.

But don’t take garden wellness for granted. Soil and plant material can harbor dangerous parasites and fungi. Here are a few garden health dangers and basic steps to protect yourself:

Soil-borne disease: Garden soil, compost, and sphagnum moss can spread diseases, like legionnaire’s disease, tetanus, and sporotrichosis (also called rose gardener’s disease). Wear garden gloves if you have any open cuts on your hands. And if you do nick yourself, take the time to clean and disinfect—even if it’s just a small scratch.

You should also wear gloves and long sleeves when you’re working with rose bushes, pine seedlings, and other plants likely to cause small cuts or punctures.

Mold spores: Be careful when cleaning out old leaves or moldy plant material. Breathing in fungal spores can cause severe respiratory issues.

Decaying plant material can host a fungus that causes aspergillosis, a serious lung disease which can lead to hospitalization and even death. To be safe, wear a face mask when working with compost and old mulch.

Ticks: Take precaution when working in the yard during tick season (roughly mid-May to mid-August), particularly if you live near a wooded area. Tiny deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating illness.

Wear light colored clothing so it’s easier to spot any ticks. Wear long pants and sleeves and spray your clothing with a tick repellant that contains at least 25% DEET. And always do a tick check when you come back in the house. In most cases, the tick must be attached for at least 24 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted. 

Animal poop: Always wash your garden fruits and vegetables before eating, even they look clean and even if you don’t use pesticides.  They may have trace amounts of bird poop and other animal feces, which can carry bacteria like listeria, E. coli, and salmonella.

Follow good health habits and take simple precautions to reduce your risk of contracting a “gardener’s disease.”