7 resolutions for a safer new year

If you’re still deciding on a New Year’s resolution, consider using the year to improve your safety at home or on the road. Try one — or all — of these resolutions to make 2014 a safer year for you and your family:

1.   Review your insurance policy. If you’ve renovated your home, switched cars, or made large purchases, make sure you have appropriate coverage. Talk to your independent agent to know your family and home are protected.

2.   Develop a home inventory. An inventory is a record of the items in your house. You can make a list with brief descriptions of the items, or take a video showing the contents of each room. In case of a claim, you won’t need to remember all your belongings, and your home will be restored faster. Get tips to help create your inventory.

3.   Test your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Check both regularly to make sure the batteries are working. Learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning.

4.   Create a first aid kit. Keep your kit in an easy-to-find place so you can react quickly in case of emergency. Purchase one pre-assembled, or make one with these items.

5.   Check your home for fire hazards and create an escape plan. Look for flammable materials close to a stove, overloaded electrical circuits, and these other potential hazards. Practice an emergency escape plan with your family, including where you’ll meet outside the home in case of fire.

6.   Build a roadside emergency kit. Be prepared for a flat tire, dead battery, or other vehicle problems by keeping a kit of supplies in the trunk of your auto. Include these items.

7.   Stop distracted driving. The possible distractions while driving are limitless: phones, food, GPS, and more. But by deciding to put everything away before you start driving, you’re making the road safer for yourself and other drivers. See the risks of distracted driving.

3 common misconceptions about renters insurance

Only a few short months ago, a fire in an Allouez, Wis. apartment complex left 107 people displaced. Nobody was injured, but most of the 107 who lost nearly everything in the blaze did not have renters insurance.

While this story hits close to home for us at SECURA, it isn’t the only one we’ll hear this year. So it begs the question: why are renters uninsured so often? Below are the top three misconceptions renters have about their insurance coverage.

My landlord has insurance, so my things are covered.

Yes, your landlord has insurance, but not for you. Their insurance policy will cover the building you reside in should it be destroyed, but it’s your responsibility to purchase an insurance policy for your personal belongings.

I don’t need insurance because I don’t invite risky people or behavior in my place.

But your neighbor might. You can control what happens in your unit. Your neighbors’ visitors – and what they do – are completely out of your control. They might burn candles, use old space heaters, or have pets – all of which are notorious for creating problems, like fires, that impact many renters.

Other risks arise because of the fact that many older buildings have outdated electrical wiring, which is a greater fire risk. In addition, some rental properties could expose you to a significant potential for theft.

Renters insurance is too expensive.

Actually, it’s quite inexpensive, especially if you consider the low monthly premium. In fact, SECURA offers a MILE-STONE® policy for renters, which also insures your auto as part of a package policy. It’s a little less expensive to be covered that way. A typical renters insurance policy covers property, like electronics, clothing, and furniture. You may need additional coverage for jewelry, firearms, silver, etc.

Ask your insurance agent for a quote, or you can find an agent here.

7 tips to make snow shoveling easy and injury free

Snow brings a fresh perspective by dropping a bright, white layer over a house, a neighborhood, a city. But it also brings the inevitable chore: shoveling.

Keeping your driveway and walkways cleared of snow makes it easier to get in and out of your house. Plus, most cities have regulations about timely snow removal. Check your city’s website to see when your sidewalks need to be clear after a snowfall.

Use these tips while shoveling to simplify the job and prevent injuries:

1.   Cover up. Even though you may work up a sweat clearing the driveway, your extremities can get cold quickly. Keep your head, ears, hands, feet, and as much of your face covered as possible.

2.   Shovel when it’s fresh. If you wait until the snow is packed and hardened, it will be more difficult to move.

3.   Push first, then lift. Guide the snow as you shovel, rather than just lifting, to ease the strain on your back.

4.   Lift with your knees. This doesn’t just apply to moving heavy objects. Lift the shovel by bending your knees and keeping your back straight.

5.   Limit the snow in your shovel. Don’t overfill your shovel on every pass. Instead, fill only half the shovel at a time.

6.   Listen to your body. If you feel tired, short of breath, or tightness in your chest, stop and take a break. Learn more about how cold weather affects your heart.

7.   Bring a friend. Invite your spouse, child, or neighbor to shovel with you. You’ll clear the driveway and sidewalks in a fraction of the time — plus, you may just get to enjoy another inevitable part of winter: snowball fight!

 Information from the National Safety Council

Snowplow safety requires planning and good judgment

In snowy areas, it’s second nature: you get up early to plow parking lots so business can proceed as usual. But heavy snowfalls, windy conditions, and full parking lots can all present challenges to plowing safely.

Here’s how it’s done.

Before the job site
Drivers need to be rested and refreshed. Tired employees react slower and make poor decisions. In fact, fatigue is a major contributor to fleet accidents.

Remember the three-point contact rule: Always use two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot to enter or exit the truck cab.

Require reflective safety vests for drivers who leave a truck for any reason, and seatbelts when driving to, at, or from customer sites.

Getting to the job site
When traveling, angle the blade toward the curb to your right. You’re less likely to strike it or a snow bank, pulling your truck into it.

Don’t operate the plow – it creates extra wear-and-tear on the equipment. Make sure it’s not blocking your headlights or vision.

If possible, do not exceed 40 mph. Higher speeds can cause you to lose control easier and create a blinding snow plume behind your vehicle.

At the job site
To spare your equipment – and ensure good reaction time – plow slower than 15 mph. Any faster, and it’s easy to strike a speed bump, manhole cover, grate, or careless driver. Don’t rely solely on your mirrors when backing; look back, just in case an inattentive driver is crossing your path.

Keep up with the storm rather than waiting for the snowfall to finish accumulating. However, sometimes, sending out drivers may not be worth the risk, especially during high-wind whiteout conditions.

Plow areas where there are storm grates and drains first. Do not pile snow near buildings (it can cause water damage), or obstruct key traffic lanes and exits with high snow piles that limit visibility.

Be aware of your clients. Drug and grocery stores, and medical offices have a higher number of elderly customers. Make sure handicap areas and sidewalks are cleared and salted, and do not pile snow next to them. As the snow melts, it can create icy conditions, and the elderly are more likely to break bones in slip-and-fall accidents than younger customers.

Use these tips or share them with your employees to reduce the likelihood of injuries, and equipment or property damage.

Uncovering the insurance needs of an association

As a trade or business association, you provide benefits to your members by promoting the industry and offering educational opportunities.

Even though you typically don’t engage in the same operations as your members, you face unique risks as an association. That’s where a specialty insurance policy comes in.

Your policy should include coverage for the following:

Association events
If you host trade shows, fundraisers, conventions, or other activities, a standard commercial policy may not provide all the coverage you need. A special event policy can be tailored to the type of event, time frame, specific exposures, and more.


They play a key role in keeping your association running day to day. As such, they should be covered by your insurance. For example, if your volunteers work with children or in sheltered workshops, you may want to include them on your abuse or crime coverage.

Board of directors

A Non-Profit Directors and Officers (D&O) policy protects your association and leaders against liability risks. See the benefits of a D&O policy and why it’s important for your nonprofit.

To learn more or to make sure your association is properly covered, talk to your independent insurance agent or contact SECURA at 608-824-3462.

Add toy safety to your holiday shopping list

It’s just as exciting for us to give gifts to children as it is for them to open them. But when shopping for kids this holiday season, keep in mind some of the tips the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends.

Choose quality
Toys for all ages and skill levels should be made with quality materials and construction. Toys that break can pose choking and laceration hazards. For a list of unsafe, recalled toys, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Mind the packaging
If you don’t want to remove the toy from its original packaging before you wrap it, make sure all ties and plastic are disposed of immediately after the child opens the gift, so they don’t become deadly playthings.

Read labels
If the label says it’s not for children under three, there’s a reason. Many people think children are mature enough for certain toys. But accidents happen. In fact, at least 41 children aspirated or choked to death from 2005-09 on balloons, toys, or toy parts.

Avoid other hazards

Lead and other toxic substances
. It’s a shame, but toys are recalled regularly because of unsafe levels of heavy metals or chemicals. Do not purchase toys made of PVC plastic, or play makeup with xylene, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate.

Cords or drawstrings. Simply put, they’re a strangulation hazard. Some toys include those that can be suspended, like mobiles, or pull-behind puppies.

Magnets. If more than one is swallowed, strong magnets can become attracted to each other in the intestines, causing infection, perforation, and obstruction — all of which can be life threatening.

Noise. If it’s too loud for your ears, it’s probably too loud for a child’s sensitive ears.

SECURA’s One by One campaign for breast cancer research surpasses $100,000

Independent agents who work with us, and fans in social media, came together to help us stand up to breast cancer. And with their support, we passed a milestone in our annual One by One campaign to raise funds and spread awareness for breast cancer research.

We donated more than $25,000 this year to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), making our five-year campaign total more than $106,000 given to the organization. Our agents had a huge impact on our success: For each new MILE-STONE® home and auto policy and Specialty Lines account written between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31, 2013, we donated to the BCRF.

So many others joined our campaign in social media. They shared photos of themselves and loved ones who’ve been affected by the disease. View the photos and inspirational messages at facebook.com/securainsurance and see a list of those we honored with our donation.

For those who participated, thanks for helping us make a difference in the fight against breast cancer.

4 things you should know about umbrella coverage

The umbrella policy is aptly named — it gives you added coverage on top of your personal insurance (like homeowners, auto, watercraft, or motorcycle). But how does it relate to you and your current insurance policy? Here’s a basic overview to help you understand the coverage.

1.   What is it?
The umbrella policy provides higher limits to give you extra liability coverage to pay for injuries and damages others sustain due to your negligence. For example, say you are found negligent in an auto accident and required to pay for the resulting bodily injury. Once you reach the limits of your primary insurance policy, the umbrella kicks in to cover the additional costs above that, up to your limit.

2.   What does it cover?
The policy applies to you and others living in your household, including a spouse, children, or others in your care. It extends the liability limits of your primary insurance policy, including auto, homeowners, watercraft, and recreational vehicle liability; and personal injury liability such as libel, defamation of character, false arrest, and more.

In addition, the coverage follows you, meaning you’re protected worldwide. The most common limit for an umbrella policy is $1 million, but higher limits are available.

3.   Why do I need it?
The more assets you have, the more protection you need — particularly when court awards are trending increasingly higher. An umbrella policy offers that extra layer of security. Plus, the added protection is valuable if you add a teen driver to your insurance policy. A majority of the claims covered by umbrella policies involve auto losses, so having an umbrella policy can give you peace of mind when your teen driver is on the road.

4.   How do I get it?
Umbrella insurance is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the amount of coverage you receive. Talk to your independent agent to learn more or to purchase an umbrella policy.

Earthquake and mine subsidence: Are you at risk?

When natural events damage your home, they aren’t always covered by insurance. In fact, three potentially destructive perils – flood (read more about flood in another blog post), earthquake, and mine subsidence – generally are not included on a standard homeowners insurance policy, leaving you at risk for exposure. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about earthquake and mine subsidence, which may help you decide if you should obtain special insurance for each.

What is mine subsidence?
Underground mining in the Midwest began hundreds of years ago, when mining was not well regulated. Throughout time, cities and towns began to expand over or near the old, abandoned mines. Problems occur when the ground moves because of a failure – like collapse – at the mine level. That movement is mine subsidence, and it can directly damage buildings.

What is the difference between mine subsidence and earthquake damage?
Both are geological events, but the damage looks a little different.

Damage results from shaking caused by surface waves and differs depending on severity. Light damage usually is first visible in the structure above the basement, like cracks in plaster. Moderate damage will be in non-reinforced components, like chimneys, parapets, cornices, and ornamentation. In fact, it’s possible for an earthquake to cause this type of damage while leaving the foundation intact. But earthquake damage can be severe enough to cause whole structures to collapse.

Mine subsidence:
Damage from mine subsidence begins in the foundation, working its way up through a structure. It can include:
• Cracked, broken, or damaged foundation.
• Cracks in the basement walls, driveway, or garage floor.
• Popping and snapping sounds as if the house is shifting.
• Walls or floors appear unleveled or tilted.
• Doors swing open or closed.
• In extreme cases, water or gas lines may rupture.

If there is no evidence of foundation damage, it probably wasn’t caused by mine subsidence.

What’s my risk for earthquake and mine subsidence?

This map shows the general risk for earthquakes in the United States.

Mine subsidence risk varies greatly – even by county – depending on past mining activity. A good place to look is the Abandoned Mine Lands (AMLs) Portal, which provides information from U.S. Federal environmental and land management agencies about the different types of AML sites and their associated environmental, health, and safety issues.

Who can help me find earthquake or mine subsidence insurance?
The best person to contact is your independent agent. He or she will help you find resources to assess your risk, and link you to the appropriate insurance for your home or business.

Information source: Illinois Mine Subsidence Insurance Fund

Boss’s orders: Get healthy

Companies today recognize the link between workplace wellness and productivity. Healthier employees are more focused, have fewer accidents, and are less likely to miss work. Research shows that workplace wellness programs provide corporate cost savings by reducing absenteeism and medical costs. Here are some areas of focus:


Repetitive motion injuries can make your job a real pain — literally! According to the National Institutes of Health, the lifetime cost of carpal tunnel is approximately $30,000 per person. And employees with back problems rack up significantly more health care costs than their pain-free coworkers.

Orthopedic specialists can provide ergonomic recommendations for work stations and common workplace tasks. Or, host training sessions and teach employees to be smarter about how they work, with frequent stretches and proper posture.

Smoking cessation
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. In fact, life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than nonsmokers.

According to the American Cancer Society, for every employee who smokes, your business incurs nearly $3,800 in excess health care costs and lost productivity annually. Studies show that more than 70 percent of smokers want to quit. Give your employees some extra help and increase their chances of quitting for good.

Stress reduction
People who experience chronic stress have an elevated risk of heart disease. Stress damages your immune response, your memory, your brain function, and even your motor skills — all of which is bad news for employers.

Talk to your local health care provider about stress reduction classes and information sessions. Or consider a total wellness program that includes flexible work and other work-life benefits to help employees cope.

Diet and exercise
According to the CDC, just a 1 percent reduction in the following risk factors excess weight, elevated blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol has been shown to save $83-103 annually in medical costs per person. And that doesn’t even include productivity savings!

Encourage employees to stay active. Regular exercise can help people prevent a wide range of health problems, including stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Exercise also increases energy levels and helps ward off depression.

Consider your options for boosting employee fitness. Can you arrange for a corporate discount at the local Y? What about a weekly yoga class in a conference room? Or shower facilities so employees can bike to work or run during a lunch break? 

Next, help employees make better choices about what to eat. Some organizations are banning donuts in meetings or revamping the contents of company vending machines. Others are subsidizing healthy food in the cafeteria or putting out bowls of fresh fruit in the break room.

The CDC developed the National Healthy Worksite Program and the Work@Health programs to help employers boost their workplace wellness efforts.    

Why service organizations need the right insurance policy

Service and social clubs — they’re part of the fabric of America. Our service organizations, youth sports boosters, and even bridge clubs play an essential role in supporting our community and creating valuable social connections.

But as varied as the needs these groups serve are, so too are the risks they face. Without insurance, even one small accident could wipe out your club’s financial reserves and create long-term debt. Even worse, your club members could be personally sued.

“Laws are different state by state, but as a board member, you could be volunteering your liability,” said Jeff Bykowski, Specialty Business Development Manager at SECURA Insurance. “That is a reality check for a lot of people.”

When bad things happen to good people

If an accident happens, you can’t count only on your good works or good reputation to protect you. Since you worked so hard to build your club’s public image, you need to partner with the best insurance agent and carrier. Your independent agent can help make sure you have the coverage you need in case accidents or damage occur.

Insurance coverage as unique as your club

“From parade floats to spaghetti dinners to classic car shows, service clubs engage in a wide variety of activities,” said Bykowski. “Providing the right protection requires a lot of conversation. People don’t realize everything their club does until they really stop to think about it. It’s like peeling an onion.”

For instance, if your group:

  • • Works with youth, you might need abuse insurance.
  • • Provides social services, you might need professional liability insurance.
  • • Sells beer or wine at an event, you might need liquor insurance.
  • • Hosts a bounce house, runs a parade float, or has a cookout, you might need special event insurance.
Work with an insurance agent who has experience with clubs and social groups. They can help your members understand the importance of liability insurance and design the appropriate policy.

Next, help your agent by making a thorough list of all the activities your club participates in.

Above all, don’t assume you have coverage. If you’re planning something new, tell your agent what you’re doing so they can make sure your organization and your members are protected.

Driver fitness regulations lower your costs

An organization’s single largest threat to profits, reputation, and safety can be found behind the wheel of its fleet vehicle. Managing driver safety and “fitness to drive” goes a long way toward preventing crashes.

1.  Follow DOT regulations
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations were developed after studying scores of accidents and finding repeated administrative failures to address key issues. They’ve done the research, so you don’t have to. Adherence to DOT rules is the basis for an effective (and cost-saving) safety program.

The DOT is releasing detailed records of your company’s accident and inspection activity on its SAFER website. Banks, insurance companies, and even prospective customers can access this site to review your safety performance.

2.  Pre-qualify your drivers
According to section 391 of the DOT regulations, drivers must meet several specific criteria to be eligible to operate commercial vehicles. Here’s just a partial list. Drivers must:
• Be in good health.
 Be at least 21 years old.
• Know how to safely load, block, brace, and secure cargo.
• Have no clinical diagnosis of high blood pressure*, diabetes requiring insulin for control, disqualifying heart disease, or epilepsy.
Have 20/40 vision or better with corrective lenses.
• Have no history of drug abuse and no clinical diagnosis of alcoholism.

*Provisions allow limited recertification for drivers above certain blood pressure thresholds, allowing time for treatment and wellness improvements.

3.  Review driver qualifications

DOT regulations are very specific about what is expected in the Driver Qualification file. This includes an annual inquiry to your state agency maintaining driver records, other annual reviews of driver records, and current medical exam documentation.

4.  Make driver fitness an organizational priority
Create a culture in which your company commits to using only fit and qualified drivers. Begin with careful hiring practices and follow through with ongoing monitoring and safety education.

Establish procedures for monitoring driver qualifications and providing refresher training. Train dispatchers and drivers to understand that drivers cannot take a run if an illness impairs their ability or alertness. And, establish both disciplinary and incentive tools to improve driver fitness and safety habits.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month a source of inspiration and hope

Help us fill in our mosaic. Visit facebook.com/securainsurance, share your
photo, and we’ll donate to breast cancer research in your name.
Messages of encouragement are widespread in October as the nation recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

For example, here are a few of the inspirational words shared on our Facebook page by women and men whose lives have been touched by breast cancer.

“I'm slogging through treatment for myself and my beautiful daughter. And I'm telling everyone so they go get checked!! Early detection, ladies; don't be afraid. Be in charge.”

“This past spring, I had a MRI to screen for breast cancer because my mammogram and subsequent ultrasounds showed an area of suspicion. Luckily I was blessed to be given the all clear and am thankful for my life and everyone in it...like my grandson in this photo!”

“My mother-in-law has been a cancer survivor for 11 years!! She is an amazing woman.”

These words accompany pictures celebrating the strength and courage it takes to battle the disease. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re compiling these photos into a mosaic, bringing together people with a common goal: standing up to breast cancer.

Whether you have a grandmother who passed away from the disease, a test showing you’re cancer free, or you’d simply like to recognize all the women in your life — we want to honor you and your loved ones by spreading awareness and raising funds for breast cancer research.

Share a photo
on our Facebook page to help us fill in the rest of our mosaic. When you do, we’ll donate $1 to the BCRF.

Like our Facebook page
. We’ll donate another $1 for every new like we get in October.

Spread the word, and let’s fight breast cancer together. Visit facebook.com/securainsurance to see other photos already posted.

Safe hunting is no accident

The first hunter education course was offered at a 4-H camp in 1944. But states were slow to require any kind of hunter safety program until the 1960s and ‘70s when the idea really caught on. Now nearly every state requires hunters to take an approved safety course in order to buy a hunting license.

Even if you’ve already taken such a course, or if you were exempt because of age or military service, it’s still a good idea to give hunting safety another look.

Protect yourself and the people you love.
In Wisconsin, for example, there were 28 hunting-related injuries in 2012. Eleven of those involved hunters who were injured by someone from their own group, and another 13 injuries were accidentally self-inflicted.

Primary rules of hunter education.
The International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) provides resources for instructors and students nationwide. Though its programs teach many lessons for the safe and ethical use of our resources, there are four key rules that, if followed, will virtually eliminate the possibility of shooting accidents in the woods or on the range:

1. Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded.
It might be loaded, even if you think it’s not, so get in the habit of checking the chamber every time you pick up your firearm.

2. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

Only point your firearm at a target you intend to shoot. If you’re not actively shooting, point the weapon to the ground or straight into the air to reduce the risk of accidental injury.

3. Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it.
According to the most recently published report by the IHEA, of the 19 hunting-related deaths that happened nationwide in 2007, 10 involved the shooter failing to properly identify a target or not recognizing that there was a person in the line of fire. Since bullets from a high-power rifle can travel more than a mile, shooters need to be especially thoughtful of where a round will go if it doesn't hit its intended target.

4. Keep your finger away from the trigger until you're ready to shoot.
Even if the firearm has a safety, it’s a mechanical device that can fail. In 2007, five of the 19 accidental hunting deaths were caused by the shooter’s finger being on the trigger while carelessly handling a firearm or tripping and stumbling. While hunters may be unable to prevent tripping over obstacles, they can make sure their fingers are away from the trigger so that a little slip doesn't become a huge tragedy.

Other tips for a safe hunt:

       Store and transport your firearms unloaded and locked.
       Wear blaze orange.
       Dress warmly and have extra dry clothes to change into.
       Tell others where you will be and when you plan to return.
       Hunt with a partner.
       Know your state and local regulations.

For a hunter education course in your area, check with your state DNR, local sportsmen’s clubs, or Hunter-Ed.com for an online course.