Your pet needs to buckle up, too

Your whole family wears a seat belt. So why not the family dog? Your furry friends need protection, too!

The best advice is to use a harness or carrier and secure your pet in the middle of the back seat. Restraining a pet prevents them from distracting you while you’re driving and helps keep them safe, before and after an accident.

Loose animals and secondary accidents
A car safety harness keeps your pet from running off after a crash and possibly getting hit or causing another car accident. Be aware that the damages caused by this type of accident may not be covered by your insurance provider.

Your family’s safety
Even the most beloved family pet can pose a danger to you in a crash situation. Frightened, stressed, or injured pets may prevent you from getting prompt medical attention, by snapping or biting first responders.

What’s more, even in a relatively low speed accident, an unrestrained animal can become a deadly projectile, causing critical injuries to people in the vehicle. And should your dog get caught between you and the airbag, the animal will be crushed against your face or chest with massive force.

Your pets are family too. Help them live long, healthy lives by keeping them safe in every way, including when you’re in the car. Use a dog seatbelt, harness, or crate. It’s a quick, inexpensive way to protect all your loved ones.

Extra protection
Find out if your insurance includes coverage for your own pets if they’re injured in a car accident. SECURA’s Pet ProtectorSM coverage, included in MILE-STONE® policies, provides $500 per pet injured in a vehicle, watercraft, or other accident.

Understanding auto insurance for your adult child

When your teen started driving, you added them to your auto policy so you knew they were covered. Now, if your child moves out and continues using your car, are they still covered by your policy?

There are a few situations to consider:

If your child still lives with you – they still have full rights to auto coverage under your policy, and are protected by your homeowners policy as well.

If your child moved out but is using your car – they’re covered because they’re using the car with your permission, but they don’t have full protection. While they still have liability, medical payment, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in your vehicle, they don’t receive the same coverages when driving someone else’s car or as a pedestrian.

What you should do to make sure your child is covered: 
The best option to keep your driver protected — if your child moves out and keeps your vehicle — is to switch the title to his or her name and encourage them to get a personal auto policy.

Talk to them about renters insurance, too. After they move out, your homeowners coverage doesn’t extend to their new abode. Renters insurance is an inexpensive way to cover their belongings. They can work with an independent agent to make sure they’re covered.

Share this resource with them. It talks about other things to consider when starting out on your own.

Safety tips for fun winter activities

A little cold and snow won’t keep many northerners inside. From hiking to snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling, there are plenty of outdoor attractions to lure folks into the crisp, winter air. Keep yourself injury-free this season with these quick safety reminders for cold weather activities:

Reduce the risk of head injury by teaching kids to ride feet first when sledding. Supervise their sledding spots and look for areas with a clear, slow slope at the end. Designated community sledding hills are best. Sled on fresh or packed snow, but skip it if the snow pack is icy — you can lose control too easily on ice-covered hills.

Top 5 reasons to go mobile with your insurance

While it may not bring the same thrill as the latest upgrade to your favorite app or a friend’s status update, having quick and easy mobile access to your insurance information should be on your list of must-haves, too.

Here are the top five reasons why:
  1. You’re in a fender bender. Hopefully it’s not the result of using one of those other apps while driving, right? Regardless, with your insurance carrier’s mobile website or app, you can file a claim right from your smartphone, and even take photos of the damage to upload with your claim information. This allows for more timely processing of your claim.
  2. You’re stranded on the side of the road. As part of your policy, your insurance may provide Roadside RescuerSM services such as towing, or minor mechanical services like jumpstarting a dead battery, changing a flat tire, or getting you unstuck from that snowdrift. Wouldn’t it be great to have that phone number handy in a situation like this?
  3. You’re stopped by a cop. The police officer will likely ask for proof of insurance. Because you can show the officer your latest insurance auto ID card right on your smartphone, you won’t have to worry if that printed version in the glove box is from a previous decade. Note: some states still require physical proof of insurance, so check with your agent for your state’s rules.
  4. You can’t remember if you paid that bill. We’ve all been there. With mobile access, you can put your mind at ease from wherever you are. Simply log in to see your insurance billing information and make payments right from your smartphone or tablet. Plus, you can review other policy documents, too.
  5. You need to contact your agent. Let’s face it; they’re the expert when it comes to your insurance needs. It’s nice to know you have their contact information at your fingertips when you need to make changes to your policy, add coverage for a new vehicle, or just reconnect.
Many insurance carriers now provide this type of mobile access, including SECURA. If you’re a home and auto policyholder, be sure to download mySECURA to your mobile device to begin taking advantage of these convenient benefits today.

Breaking down the facts on equipment breakdown

We’re breaking down misunderstood insurance terms to help you understand coverages that could benefit your business or farm.

Like this one: What exactly is equipment breakdown coverage?

Just think about the variety of equipment your business or farm needs to run. From computers to generators to refrigerators, you rely on equipment to keep things working. And if that equipment fails, you need to get it fixed quickly.

That’s where equipment breakdown coverage comes in. Consider these examples of equipment breakdown claims:
  • A switch on an automatic animal feeding system broke, causing the entire system to crash onto the barn floor. 
  • An air-conditioning system leaked water into telephone switching equipment, shorting it out. 
  • A power surge in an office building damaged 200 computers. 
Equipment breakdown coverage helps with the costs related to repairing or replacing damaged equipment. In these examples, you’d have protection to help you repair the systems, and to make up for the interruption to your business, productivity, or possibly income in the meantime.

The coverage is helpful when you need to restore your data or cover spoiled stock. It can protect against damage caused by short circuits, power surges, or motor burnout, among others.

Talk to your independent agent to learn more and to make sure your equipment is protected.

4 must-have insurance coverages for local retailers

Small Business Saturday has grown in popularity, and customers everywhere are supporting their local retailers with a commitment to #shopsmall on the Saturday following Black Friday.

As a small business owner, honor those customers by making sure you have the right insurance in place to protect them (and yourself) from accidents and theft.

Ask your agent about these special insurance considerations for retail stores:
  1. Peak Season Endorsements:  Retail operations should have flexible insurance that changes with the season. Peak season endorsements provide additional coverage during your busiest months, ensuring you have the appropriate coverage year round, particularly when inventory levels are at their highest.
  2. Equipment Breakdown: From point-of-sale systems to phones, HVAC, and electrical, your retail business relies on a variety of equipment to stay up and running. With Equipment Breakdown coverage, you can get the rapid repairs you need to keep your doors open. Plus, coverage helps pay for inventory damage and lost income due to breakdowns — even if you lease your retail space.
  3. Data Compromise: Even small retail shops are attractive to cyber criminals who want your customers’ names and credit card numbers. That means cyber liability policies are now essential to protect your retail business from the high cost of data theft. Data Compromise insurance helps pay the expenses related to data breaches, including legal costs, notifying affected customers, and credit monitoring.
  4. Crime: A business crime policy provides coverage if one of your employees steals money, inventory, or other property. What’s more, these policies provide protection against unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account.

Independent retail stores are essential to the fabric of a community. You help create unique neighborhood identities, provide jobs, support community organizations, and keep more money locally.

But keeping a small retail shop open for business can be hard work. Protecting yourself shouldn’t be an even bigger challenge. Talk to an agent about creating a policy that’s right for your shop.

Three tips for quitting smoking

The Great American Smokeout, organized by the American Cancer Society, takes place the third Thursday in November. But anytime is a great time to quit or make a plan.

Visit the Great American Smokeout page for resources (app, game, helpline), and consider using the tips below to kick the smoking habit!

1.    Pay yourself to quit.

In one research study, some smokers were offered $800 if they quit and remained smoke-free for six months. Others were asked to pay $150 of their own money up front, with the promise they’d get that money back if they stayed smoke free. Turns out, smokers with their own cash on the line were twice as likely to quit.

Set your own dollar figure and time commitment, and then give that cash to a trusted friend or family member who will hold you accountable. As an extra incentive, promise that money to a charity or political cause you don’t actually want to support.

You can use the stickK app (free for Android and iPhone) to do the same thing — pledging money if you fail to reach your goal. You also can opt to have other stickK supporters cheer you on with motivational messages along the way.

2.    Talk to your employer.
Find out if your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with smoking cessation resources. Smoking increases your health risks, so your employer benefits when you quit. Chances are good that they’ll be able to connect you with a free support program (plus insurance savings and other incentives if you’re successful)!

3.    Ask about anti-smoking medication.

Prescription drugs are available to help you quit. Studies show that some tobacco-cessation medications double your success rate for quitting. Talk to your doctor to find out if prescription help might be right for you.

The 5 best ways to honor a veteran

Each year when November 11 rolls around, many retail stores are eager to advertise their Veterans Day sales and promotions. Granted, you may get a great deal on that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing up, but how much will that 25% off sale at the department store really do to honor veterans?

Besides, is the sale really that special when it pales in comparison to the even bigger discounts offered for that other national holiday that’s only a few short days away – Black Friday.

Instead, why not check out one of our top 5 picks for honoring soldiers, both past and present, this Veterans Day:

  1. The suicide rate among many veterans is staggering. Some experts suggest that it’s because they feel they had a duty and mission while serving in the military and, when they return home, they struggle to find their purpose.

    Consider working with the non-profit organization, The Mission Continues. They help empower veterans who are adjusting to life after the military to find purpose through civic action. They deploy veterans on new missions in their communities, so that their legacy will be one of leadership and service.
  2. Grant a wounded warrior’s wish. The Wounded Warrior Project’s mission is to raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of injured service members. They provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members. Learn how you can get involved.
  3. Who hasn’t been moved by the images of veterans arriving at the airport after returning from an honor flight? The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. They transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill. You can help by volunteering or donating.
  4. Even small acts of caring can make an impact. When you see a soldier or veteran eating at a restaurant, let the waiter/waitress know that you’d like to pay for their meal. Or, visit your local VA retirement home and bring some home-baked cookies. The challenge is to make it more than a once-a-year event. Form a friendship with a veteran that lasts throughout the year.
  5. Replace your worn or faded flag by bringing it to your local American Legion. While there, thank the veterans who are serving and ask to hear their story. The American Legion holds special ceremonies to properly and legally dispose of unserviceable flags in a dignified manner.
Consider these tangible ways to honor veterans this year. While it is unfortunate that all generations have known war, it is truly fortunate that we have our veterans to thank for our protection.

How to make your home less appealing to burglars

You lock the doors, shut the blinds, and set a timer for lights, eager to head out for a weekend getaway. Sound familiar? It seems like a safe plan…but is it enough to keep burglars out?

Take these additional steps to keep your home safe while you’re away.
  • Always lock doors and windows when you leave — it seems simple, but it’s easy to overlook. Also consider a timer for your TV or radio so it sounds like you are home. 
  • Keep any bushes around your home trimmed to eliminate hiding places for burglars. 
  • Ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your house. They can bring in newspapers, watch for suspicious vehicles, and even park in your driveway occasionally to make your home appear occupied
  • Don’t announce when you’ll be gone on social media, or post pictures of expensive purchases like jewelry or a TV. Both of these are like ads to potential burglars. 
  • Keep items like laptops, jewelry, and car keys out of sight. Store them in unpredictable spots so they can’t be quickly found. Burglars aim to get in and out fast. 
  • Don’t overlook a staycation. If you’re relaxing in your backyard, keep your garage closed and other doors locked — someone could steal from you even while you’re home. 
  • Create a home inventory. Take photos or video of every room in your house to document your belongings, and store them electronically or somewhere outside your home. Also note serial numbers of large items; police can use them to trace the stolen items.

Top 10 insurance discounts you may be missing

Maybe you're the type of person who likes to clip coupons, or perhaps you find yourself driving across town to save two cents on a gallon of gas. It's a good feeling to save a few bucks. Chances are, you can save money on your home and auto insurance premium, too.

While all insurance carriers may not offer these deals, you should ask your agent about these top ten insurance discounts:
  1. Valued policyholder discount. You're rewarded for being a loyal customer. The longer you stay with your insurance carrier, the more you save, regardless of your claims history.
  2. Select pay discount. Save when you pay through electronic funds transfer (EFT), or when you pay your premium in full.
  3. Non-smokers discount. Here's another reason to quit. Not only are non-smokers healthier, they also are less likely to have a house fire. You can receive this discount when all residents in your home are non-smokers.
  4. Hybrid vehicle discount. Earn this credit by owning or leasing a hybrid car.
  5. Good student discount. Receive this discount if your policy covers a good student driver. The student must be be age 16-24, go to school full time, and have a 3.0 grade point average or better.
  6. Away at school discount. Policyholders with drivers on their policies will receive a discount if the driver attends school 100 or more miles from home.
  7. Accident prevention course discount. Provides savings to a driver age 55 or older who completes a state-approved driver improvement course.
  8. Claim free/violation free discount. Qualify for this discount if you've been accident free for the past three years and have no moving violations.
  9. Package discount. Sometimes referred to as "bundling," this discount automatically applies if you have both your vehicle(s) and home insured on one policy.
  10. Umbrella coverage discount. Reduce your home premium when an umbrella policy is added to your coverage.
SECURA is among the carriers that provides these and other discounts to its MILE-STONE Gold or Basic home and auto or apartment and condo policyholders. If you've had your policy for several years, it's a good idea to check with your agent, who can update your policy, and help you discover if you qualify for these and other discounts that come with being a loyal and safety-conscious customer.

3 steps to determine if your collectibles need insurance

Perhaps you’ve seen the television program, Antiques Roadshow, where an attendee brings in a few family heirlooms, only to discover that the collection they’ve stored in their hallway closet for 20 years is a national treasure.

Chances are you won’t hit the jackpot. Still, it’s important to know whether those fur coats you inherited from your grandmother have any worth, or if the coins you’ve acquired over the years should have a value placed on them for insurance purposes.

Take these three steps to help determine if you need additional coverage:
  1. Get an appraisal
    Just like on the show, the first step to determine whether you need additional coverage is to know how much your collection is worth. After you get an appraisal, it’s really up to you to decide whether your collection warrants additional coverage. There is no minimum coverage in most cases, and limits can be as much as $100,000. It’s important to note, however, that insurance cannot cover an item’s sentimental value. 
  2. Contact your agent
    When you decide you’d like to insure your collection, provide your agent with a description of each article, the date of purchase (if applicable), and the current value. Assuming your items can be covered by your insurance company, your agent can add their value as an endorsement to your existing policy.
  3. Determine if you need blanket coverage. Furs, jewelry, and fine art often have blanket coverage. This means that your entire collection is covered even if you add to it or sell an item, as long as the total value remains within the blanket limit. The advantage of blanket coverage is that you don’t need to call your agent every time you add or remove an item from your collection.

    Not everything qualifies for blanket coverage, however, and may require that you list each item separately and disclose any changes. This may include coins, stamps, guns, silverware, musical instruments, or any number of items. When in doubt, check with your agent.
Adding coverage to your homeowners policy for most collectibles is easy, and the cost is usually nominal. Not all collections are the same, nor are all insurance policies. If you have very unique or one-of-a-kind pieces that are irreplaceable, you may require specialized insurance. Your independent agent can help you determine the best coverage.

Top 5 tips for child safety around pets

Playing with cats, dogs, and other pets provides children with a unique way to learn new skills, develop social relationships, and recognize that other creatures have needs, too.

Many pets tolerate small children quite well. But even a gentle animal can bite or scratch when provoked. Once your child becomes old enough to grab at tails and whiskers, any pet may lash out in fear or self defense.

Supervise children around your pets, and don’t leave them alone together until the child is old enough to understand proper handling skills. When your child is ready, talk about good pet safety habits.

Pet safety rules
Here are five pet safety tips to review with your child:
  1. Always ask an adult before approaching an animal you don’t know. Some dogs and cats just aren’t friendly to new people.
  2. Pets don’t like surprises! Use a quiet voice and make sure the animal sees you before slowly putting your hand out to pet it.
  3. Leave animals alone when they’re sleeping or eating.
  4. Keep away from animals that are anxious or excited. Step back if a dog starts barking at anything, like a squirrel or a person through the window.
  5. While it seems counter-intuitive, teach children not to run or bike away if they’re being chased by a dog, unless they are within reach of a safe escape. Stop and be still until the dog goes away or help comes. If the child can, put the bike between him or her and the approaching animal.
Pet owners and visiting children
If you’re a pet owner, protecting your pet and protecting children go hand-in-hand. Don’t allow your pet to be put in stressful situations that might cause it to nip or scratch. Watch out for teasing and rough treatment, and give your pet a safe place to retreat from kids who may be overexcited or over-zealous with their attention.

Lastly, when visiting friends or relatives, leave Fido at home. An unfamiliar environment with lots of  people, noise, and activity can agitate and excite the most loving of pets. Plus, consider that other visitors may have allergies, a general fear of animals, or simply may not appreciate the licking, jumping, barking, and begging that will likely occur.

Top 10 tips for ATV safety

When operated safely, an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) can be a useful tool for work on a farm or jobsite, and a great source of fun and recreation for family outings. The popularity of ATVs has grown steadily throughout the last three decades. Unfortunately, cases of related serious injuries and deaths have increased as well.

Also referred to as a four-wheeler, an ATV can weigh as much as 800 pounds and can travel at speeds up to 75 miles per hour. The sale of three-wheelers was banned in 1988 after studies showed that operators were twice as likely to be injured than were four-wheel operators because of an increased risk of roll-over crashes.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 13,043 deaths from 1982-2013 in the United States. Even more startling are the estimated 99,600 ATV-related injuries that were treated in emergency rooms in 2013 alone, with 25 percent involving children younger than 16 years of age.

You can stay safer on trails and the jobsite by following these top 10 recommendations:
  1. Don’t let children under 16 ride adult-sized ATVs, and educate them about safety. Children 6-11 years of age should not operate a unit larger than 50cc. Children 12-16 years of age should not operate one larger than 90cc.
  2. Always wear a helmet, eye protection, and protective clothing.
  3. Don’t carry passengers.
  4. Attend an ATV-operator training course.
  5. Don’t ride on paved roads; ATVs are difficult to control on pavement.
  6. Don’t drink and drive.
  7. Avoid excessive speed. Travel at speeds appropriate for the terrain and conditions.
  8. Read the owner’s manual.
  9. Do a pre-ride safety check (tires, wheels, chain, cables).
  10. Consult your state’s DNR (Department of Natural Resources) for local regulations.
Let's commit to lowering the risk of an accident happening to an employee or a family member by following safe ATV practices.

4 ways to keep identity thieves out of major life events

It seems every day you hear about picking a better password or avoiding suspicious emails to protect your identity. But there are other ways criminals can get your personal information.

Consider major life events like getting married, having children, enlisting in the military, or executing an estate. All of these increase the chance of identity theft. Learn the potential pitfalls so you can better protect your identity — or that of a loved one.

If you choose to change or hyphenate your name after marriage, apply for the name change in person at the social security office; don’t fax or email your personal details. Don’t show pictures of your marriage documents on social media, and store your old social security card in a locked safe or safe-deposit box.

Having a child 
A fraudulent credit report could be building, unnoticed until your child grows up. Don’t give out your kid’s social security number unless absolutely necessary. Ask how schools use and store your child’s personal details, and confirm what is shared via directories or activities.

Military personnel 
You can put an Active Duty Alert on your credit report for free. This lasts a year (with an option to renew) and makes companies verify your identity before granting credit. Plus, you won’t get any pre-approved credit card offers for two years (another way criminals can gain access).

Executing an estate 
If a loved one passes away, send a copy of the death certificate to the credit bureaus to get a deceased alert on credit reports and prevent future fraud. Notify any credit cards, banks, or other financial institutions. Also consider the obituary. Including too many details could give thieves an advantage.

Get help with identity fraud
SECURA MILE-STONE Gold policyholders automatically receive identity theft protection. Contact your independent agent to learn more.

Farmers markets: What kind of insurance do I need?

Insurance for vendors
Your booth at the farmers market is beautifully stocked with fresh produce and even a few homemade goodies. You greet each customer, welcome your regulars, and make recommendations on how to serve this week’s harvest.

But what would happen if a customer got sick from something you sold? Even careful farmers can end up with a listeria outbreak or other contamination. Food borne illnesses can be serious, and medical expenses add up quickly.

Product liability insurance protects you as an individual, should you get sued. With the right coverage, your customers will be able to get the medical attention they need — and you won’t risk losing the farm!

Talk to your agent about selling your produce and other goods so they can help you with general liability and product liability coverage. Getting the right insurance might be easier than you think.  

If you’re a farmer selling fruits or vegetables at a roadside stand or farmers market, you likely already have a farm liability policy. Farm liability policies often have language specific to when product liability is covered and when it is not. Talk to your agent to find out if your policy has limitations. 

Insurance for organizers
Those who host farmers markets need insurance, too. Commercial general liability insurance provides general liability, insuring you, as the organizer.

This insurance is not intended, however, to extend coverage to your vendors or their customers. That’s why it’s a good idea to require vendors carry their own insurance that includes product liability. If you don’t require proof of insurance, you put your own organization at risk. As added protection, you should require each vendor to name your organization as an additional insured on their policy.

With these tips, you're sure to reap the full harvest of benefits from selling your produce and goods.

College dorm theft prevention

A tablet, a computer, a gaming console…and a French horn. Your son or daughter packed a lot of stuff into their dorm room, and some of it is highly attractive to would-be thieves. Talk with your child about dorm room security and investing in a few security tools.

Dorm safes
Walk down the hallways of nearly any dorm and you’ll see lots of open doors and groups socializing. While open doors make for great community, they’re also an invitation for grab-and-run thieves.

The best advice is to close and lock your door every time you leave your room. But since you can’t always control what your roommate does (and because “I was only gone a second” moments are just part of life), invest in a dorm room safe.

Dorm safes are designed with anchor cables that wrap around furniture or closet poles. You can store valuables like a passport, medications, cash, or tablet in one secure place. For gamers, consider a safe big enough for games and controllers too.

Cable locks
Laptop leashes and cable locks can deter larger electronics from walking away. Many laptops have a lock slot designed specifically for cable locks.

Xbox One units come with a built-in Kensington security slot, and Kensington offers an adapter kit that can be bonded to other electronics. Gamers also can find acrylic security cases designed to lock their game system to a table — just don’t plan on drilling holes into any college-owned furniture.

Know your coverage
Your existing homeowners insurance will likely extend coverage to your son or daughter’s dorm room (and possibly off-campus, too), but there are limits and exclusions. Talk to your insurance agent to understand what’s covered.

The 3 top misunderstood insurance terms

For a newcomer to the insurance industry, or a policyholder who reads the fine print of their policy, both could be left scratching their heads over some of the terminology. Much of it is steeped in hundreds of years of history.

Check out these three commonly misunderstood insurance terms:

Inland marine

Back in the day — way back before the 19th century — most cargo was transported by ocean vessels. The owner of the items being shipped would purchase marine insurance to protect his property while it was in transit. As the rise of new transportation developed, a need for a new type of insurance coverage arose to cover the unique perils of transporting items over land versus the sea. Hence, inland marine came on the scene.

Most inland marine coverages are for property that is taken off the primary premises of the policyholder. Some examples may include a photographer who uses his camera equipment at a wedding reception, a contractor who takes his tools to a job site, or a traveling art exhibit.

We’re not talking about celebrity endorsements here. An insurance endorsement is an agreement that is attached to an existing policy that either expands or limits the coverage. Think of it as an add-on.

Perhaps you have a business that you run out of your home — you can add an endorsement to your homeowners policy to cover those extra risks. Or maybe you have a collection of expensive jewelry and its value exceeds your standard coverage limits — an endorsement can cover its replacement cost for an additional premium.

On a typical rainy day, you may get by with a raincoat. But when it pours, you need an extra layer of protection to shield you from the storm — that’s where an umbrella comes in handy. This is a good picture of how insurance works.

Most insurance policies cover typical perils that you may face — your home gets damaged, or you have a minor fender bender in a parking lot. But what happens if you’re at fault for that accident and the other driver sues for $1 million when your liability limit is only $300,000? If the other driver wins the lawsuit, you’d be responsible for paying the balance. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an umbrella to shield you from this type of storm?

A personal umbrella policy provides an extra layer of protection above the liability limits in your home and auto policy. The most common limit for an umbrella policy is $1 million. However, depending on your unique situation, higher limits are available.

Talk with your insurance agent to determine proper coverage for your individual needs.

Top 5 questions to ask before hiring a contractor

Whether you’re starting a new project or hiring a contractor for repairs, here are five key questions to ask before signing a contract.

1.    Are you licensed?
Licensing helps ensure your contractor will meet area building standards, and proof of licensure is usually required before a contractor can pull permits for your job. Be aware: hiring an unlicensed contractor could void your homeowners insurance, if a claim arises as a result of their work.

2.    Are you insured?
Ask for proof of liability and workers’ compensation insurance. These policies protect you in case the contractor damages your home or a job-related injury occurs. Your homeowners insurance may be able to help if your contractor isn’t insured, but a claim like that could impact your rates or make it more difficult to obtain insurance in the future.

3.    Can you provide a list of references?
Past performance is a good indicator of future success. Angie’s List offers suggestions on what to ask when talking to a contractor’s previous clients. Also search other online ratings, including social media.

4.    How often will you be on site to oversee the job?
If your contractor is not actually doing the work, you want someone who will be checking in daily. A contractor should serve as a project manager, watching for mistakes, addressing complications, and keeping the job on track.

5.    Have you been involved in any legal disputes regarding a job?

Check with the Better Business Bureau or search local court records. In a perfect world, your contractor won’t have past legal disputes, but construction is a difficult business and things do go wrong. See if your contractor gives you an honest answer and then weigh his or her good referrals against any prior troubles.

Do your homework before you commit. Hiring a qualified, properly insured professional could save you a lot of stress in the long run.

Join our 7th annual One by One campaign

Your one, simple act can inspire hope and provide support for those facing breast cancer: One policy. One share. One like.

We’ve donated more than $130,000 over the past six years and, with your help, we’ll contribute even more. It all gets underway Sept. 1.

Two ways to participate

1. Make SECURA your carrier of choice
We will donate $10 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) during September and October 2015* when we issue new:
  • MILE-STONE® policies
  • Specialty Lines accounts

2. Join us on social media
Like our Facebook page during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we’ll donate $1. We’ll post inspiration, breast cancer statistics, and resources. Share our content, post your photos, and watch our page for other ways to join the fun and increase our donation. You can even win prizes.

Join our One by One campaign and let’s fight breast cancer together.

*NBCF provides help and inspires hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education, and support services. All policies must be effective within the program period (Sept. 1 – Oct. 31, 2015). Book rolls, renewals, and Special Events policies are ineligible.

Learn the warning signs of drowning & how to prevent it

Drowning looks very different in real life than how it’s portrayed on TV and in movies. That makes it all the more dangerous — it could be easy to miss in reality.

In fact, drowning is the second cause of unintentional death for kids ages 1 to 14. That’s why it’s crucial to learn to recognize the warning signs and protect your loved ones in the water.

Know what to look for 
  • Quiet. The person will be unable to call for help. They won’t wave for help either — their arms naturally will extend to help them lift their mouth above the water. 
  • Glassy or unfocused eyes, or closed eyes. 
  • Staying upright. The person will be vertical, not kicking their legs. 
  • Mouth near the water level. Their head will be low, often tilted back. 

Learn more about the Instinctive Drowning Response.

Take steps to prevent it
  • Swimming lessons. Teach your kids to swim early so they’re comfortable in water, and use life jackets. 
  • Supervision. Choose pools or beaches where lifeguards are present. Even with a lifeguard, you should supervise your kids in the water — drowning can take less than a minute. 
  • Partner up. You and your kids should always swim with a buddy. 
  • Practice safety at your own pool. Use barriers and gates, and create a pool safety kit

Get more water safety tips from the CDC.

Tips for securing loads to your pickup, flatbed, or trailer

Unsecured loads in a pickup, flatbed truck, or trailer can be just as dangerous as an unsecured load on a 53-foot semi-trailer heading down the interstate. When unsecured loads fall from trailers, they can cause cars to swerve, lose control and, ultimately, crash. They also damage vehicles, and can injure or kill others on the roadway. Follow these tips to ensure the safety of yourself and others:

What a truck owner or employee should do

  • Make sure the parking brake is on and wheels are chocked during loading and unloading.
  • Cover any load that has the potential to throw wind-driven debris out of the truck — like gravel, firewood, mulch, or refuse.
  • Balance all loads so that weight is equal in all parts of the truck or trailer.
  • Do not make sudden swerves, stops, or acceleration.
  • Watch mirrors frequently, being aware of passing vehicles, especially large trucks that may create wind pressure and cause a trailer to swerve.
  • Make sure the safety chains are always secured at the ball hitch when trailer towing.
  • Never assume that someone else tied down or secured the load. This is the responsibility of the driver.
  • Never speed.

What an employer should do
  • Maintain a written cargo securement policy that explains how to secure equipment, supplies, and materials when they are transported. Make sure all employees are given a copy of the policy that they signed after reading.
  • Provide illustrations or photos for key equipment. List safe driving practices for transporting a load. Provide hands-on training for everyone hauling a load. 
  • Supply proper equipment for the job, including cargo nets, tarps, bungee cords, straps, chains, and slings with ratchets.
  • Understand that if the combined weight of a truck, trailer, supplies, and equipment exceeds 10,000 pounds, the driver is required to obtain the proper medical certificate, stop at roadside inspection stations, and be compliant with cargo securement regulations for commercial truckers.

Your trucks and trailers are an expensive investment, but for businesses they also are like billboards. How they are used on public roadways can advertise your business reputation and professionalism. Misused, they can advertise the actions of a careless employee, compromising years of hard work made to build a solid business reputation. Protect your investment; train and equip your employees to transport loads and equipment safely. 

Protect your home, right from your phone

Remote control — it’s the latest in home security. New systems use internet, cable, and cellular networks to keep you connected to your house, no matter where you are. Now you can activate an alarm from the road, view video of movement near the back door, or remotely unlock the garage.

With the right setup, you can even control certain utilities and appliances, turn the heat up before you come home, or switch the lights on, all from your smartphone or tablet.

Add up the fees
Get a clear understanding of the fees and contract requirements for these services. Expect a base installation fee, equipment fees, and a monthly service fee. You’ll probably pay extra for services like water detection, fire and smoke monitoring, glass break sensors, and lighting and thermostat controls.

Monthly fees start around $30 to $40 for security services with most national companies. Ask about minimum contract terms and early termination fees, too.

Who calls for help?
Most standard services include central monitoring, meaning the police are notified when an alarm is triggered. Monitoring offers the best protection, ensuring help will be on its way if a break-in does occur. But if you’re concerned about false alarms or want to trim costs, you can choose a service that sends an alert to you instead.

Customer service matters
Pricing and equipment won’t vary widely from one provider to the next, but service will make or break your experience. Check online reviews and use this handy home security comparison tool, but remember that service is only as good as the local dealer in your area.

Watch for scammers
If you have an older security system and are considering updating to a more tech-savvy option, make sure you are contracting with a reputable service provider. Scammers have been known to target homeowners and sell them an updated system, when in reality they are trying to lock them into over-priced, long-term contracts, or worse — tamper with the alarm system so they can return and burglarize the home.

Consider DIY
If you’re even moderately tech savvy, you can set up your own in-home sensors and camera systems with remote monitoring and control. Be aware, however, that do-it-yourself systems don’t include central monitoring (mentioned above), so you’ll still be in charge of calling for help.

What a lemonade stand can teach about insurance

It’s heart-warming to see the initiative of young children who set up a front-yard lemonade stand to raise a little money, especially those kids whose goal is to donate proceeds to help a cause like childhood cancer — turning lemons into lemonade, so to speak.

A child’s entrepreneurial venture can provide a great teaching moment for parents about the challenges and needs that many small business owners face, whether it’s about inventory control or managing their finances.

While a lemonade stand won’t need insurance, the day may come when your child wants to get more serious about opening a small business or food truck, so take the opportunity to educate him or her about this important aspect, too.

Why might a food vendor need insurance? It offers protection for unfortunate events like a slip and fall injury, or can pay medical bills for someone who gets sick from spoiled food, for example.

Often, vendors are required to provide proof of insurance to event organizers or owners of the premises where they set up. The types of coverage that are most common include:
  • General Liability – Protects the vendor in the event of a successful lawsuit that results from their business operations.
  • Property or Inland Marine – Covers inventory held in storage or items used that are moved to several locations.
  • Workers’ Compensation – Each state has different requirements for work comp, so check with your independent agent to learn about your specific needs.
  • Spoilage – Can protect merchandise that’s spoiled because of a power outage or refrigeration equipment malfunction.
Talk to your child about the various aspects of operating a small business, including insurance. When their zest for selling lemonade sours and they devise grander plans, they’ll be able to squeeze the most out of life.

Buyer beware – Top 6 dangers of buying off Craigslist

There are some great finds on Craigslist, and increasingly there are buy-sell-trade groups on Facebook and other social networks where you can get some great bargains on used merchandise. But there are many potential pitfalls to buying second-hand. Consider the following when making your purchasing decisions:

1. Recalled items
Many sellers unknowingly sell recalled products online. None pose greater risks than items originally intended to protect children, and instead can end up harming them.

Check the model number of a used car seat to see if it is recalled. Car seats also have expiration dates, so confirm the manufacture date with the seller. If unsure, pass on the item.

Cribs are another common danger. Drop-side cribs were once common place. Many deaths were connected to this feature, and it since has been banned. Also, check the distance between rungs. It must be no more than 2 inches.

2. Furniture
Sellers may promote their furniture as being “solid wood,” when in fact the item is merely particle board covered with a veneer. Veneer is not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t pay a premium price for mislabeled features. Make sure that any veneer adheres to the particle board without flaking off. Also check for wobbly legs and loose-fitting joints.

Look for furniture from a smoke-free and pet-free home. Odors from smoke and pet urine are nearly impossible to remove. And pass up that cheap mattress. Need we point out the obvious — bed bugs and bodily fluids?

3. Computers and cellphones
Electronics, in general, can sustain damage that is unseen to the buyer. There’s often no way to know if a laptop has been dropped or spilled on, or has had a virus. Operating systems quickly are outdated as well.

Cellphones often are more abused than computers, so beware. Also, in most cases you must have the same carrier as the seller to activate any cellphone service. Unless you’re a tech geek, avoid purchasing used electronics.

4. Vehicles
Vehicles are a big ticket item and many successfully purchase them online. But if the price is way below market, it’s likely a scam. Be cautious when the seller and vehicle are in different locations, or if a seller pushes for quick payment to be wired to them. Order a CARFAX report, and make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN) matches with the number on the paperwork.

5. Buzz words
Many sellers believe that by simply adding the word “vintage” or “antique” to the description of their unwanted collection of VCR tapes, that they can charge a premium price. Old is old. Check comparable pricing on other sites for the item you are interested in.

6. Meeting location
When at all possible, meet at a public place like a gas station or coffee shop. Many of these locations also have ATMs so you can easily withdraw money to pay for your transaction without having to carry large amounts of cash with you. Meeting publicly may not be realistic for viewing larger items like appliances or furniture. In this case, bring a friend and let others know when and where you are going.

Bottom line? If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Follow common-sense practices that will save you money in the long run, and never put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. No bargain is worth compromising your safety.

Ripe for the picking – 7 steps to protect your produce operation

“You pick” farms offer fresh, healthy family entertainment. But before you open your berry patch or orchard to paying customers, be sure you have safety precautions in place, and the appropriate insurance coverage.

Check your insurance policy for product liability, premises liability, medical payment coverage, and deductibles.

Most policies contain premises liability to insure you against accidents that occur on premises. Product liability is equally essential and provides protection in case a customer becomes ill, for example, after eating produce from your farm.

Medical payment coverage is optional protection that provides limited coverage for customer injuries, even if your business wasn’t negligent. Alternately, your policy may require a deductible for bodily injury claims. Work with your agent to understand this coverage and make sure the options are right for you.  

No matter what insurance you choose, diminish your risk with this Pick-Your-Own Safety Checklist:
  1. Advise customers to wash all produce before eating. Listeria outbreaks can occur even in perfect conditions.
  2. Offer water when the weather is hot.
  3. Consider CPR certification to be better prepared for emergencies.
  4. If you can’t view your entire harvest area, drive around and check on your patrons. Train your staff how to respond if a customer is in distress. Establish a check-in system so you know if people are lingering in the field or orchard.
  5. Patrol your property for bees and wasps, and prohibit picking in areas near hives.
  6. For orchard crops, plant dwarf trees or prune trees to grow low. If you provide any sort of step ladder, limit the height to two feet, max. Ladders must be in excellent condition with appropriate weight capacity.
  7. Post signage prohibiting children (and others) from climbing trees, and ask that children be supervised at all times.
Protect your farm with standard safety procedures and review your insurance policy to be sure it has the coverage you need and want.

Top 10 outdoor music festival survival tips

If you love having a sing-a-long with thousands of other music-lovers and relish the excitement of catching your favorite band on stage, then one of the many summer music festivals held around the country is in order. Make your experience more enjoyable by following these top 10 festival survival tips:
  1. Drink lots of water. Dehydration and heat stroke are among the top medical problems for festival attendees, and can be life-threatening. Check if carry-ins of food or beverages are prohibited and plan accordingly. 
  2. Come prepared. Pack items like bug spray, ear plugs, rain gear, and a Sharpie – hey, you might run into your favorite artist while standing in line for a corn dog. Remember that there are likely port-a-potties, so a small pack of tissues and some hand sanitizer are in order.
  3. Lather up. The quickest way to ruin a good time is with a really bad sunburn. Apply a good sunscreen regularly throughout the day and encourage others to as well.
  4. Bring a flashlight. After an exhausting day of dancing, screaming, and walking, the last thing you want is to search endlessly in the dark for where you parked your car or set up camp. Consider downloading one of the many available car-finder apps to help. And do we need to remind you about those port-a-potties…in the dark?
  5. Leave Fido at home. Unless they're registered service animals, pets often are prohibited. The large crowds, loud music, and hot weather can agitate even the most lovable animal and pose a risk to you, your pet, and others.
  6. Remember prescription medications. Hot, dusty weather can trigger asthma, migraines, and other medical conditions. Include ibuprofen or other over-the-counter medications to help with aches and pains.
  7. Wear good walking shoes. This is not the time to make a fashion statement. It is not uncommon for festival-goers to walk 10 miles or more a day going to and from venues. Besides, flip flops in a mosh pit are a recipe for disaster.
  8. Be a good neighbor. If you’re camping, stay within your site boundaries. Also, check the grill and open fire policy. Most events have restrictions on open campfires and do not allow wood brought in from more than 25 miles away to help prevent the spread of invasive insects and plant diseases.
  9. Plan ahead. Visit the festival’s website for the full schedule of artists. Your event may have an app that can be downloaded to your smartphone — it lets you choose which concerts you want to attend and automatically creates a personalized custom schedule so you don’t miss a beat.
  10. Be yourself. Many attendees see the festival atmosphere as an opportunity to party hard and let it all go — often forgetting the values they uphold the other 364 days of the year. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, and refuse to use illegal drugs. Besides, your actions may not be so private in the world of social media, and you might just end up being “that guy” on the nightly news.
A music festival is a unique experience that can create life-long memories. Make sure those memories are all positive ones by staying safe and living a life of no regrets.

Kids age-appropriate farm safety tips

Farms are a rare combination of workplace and home. And because kids grow up “at home” on the farm, we may not think to give them the same kind of safety training we expect in a workplace.

It’s not uncommon for a construction or landscape company, for example, to hold weekly tailgate talks, reminding employees of job site hazards and the steps they can take to stay safe.

Try the same tactic with kids on the farm. Make your safety talks routine and deliberate. Hopefully, if they see you putting serious emphasis on safety, they’ll be less likely to shrug off your reminders with an “I know, dad!”

Here are some age-appropriate safety reminders for farm kids:

Toddler to age 5
  • Supervise at all times.
  • Install fences and locked gates to keep young children from wandering into hazardous areas of the farm, similarly to how you’d prevent them from going near a backyard swimming pool.
  • Keep chemicals out of reach.
  • Say “no” to riding on farm machinery

Early school age
  • Begin a regular habit of farm safety talks, and always model farm safety yourself.
  • Start to give kids age-appropriate, supervised farm chores.
  • Get kids involved in 4-H so they learn about farm safety from another source.

Middle school
  • Increase farm chores and responsibilities, with appropriate safety talks, and enforce safety rules, every time.
  • Require helmets when kids are riding bikes or ATVs.
  • Introduce kids to the Play it Farm Safe online training game.

  • Begin safety training on farm equipment and require Tractor Safety Certification
  • Require hearing protection when using farm machinery.
  • Talk about underage drug and alcohol use – drugs and alcohol don’t mix when operating machinery of any kind.

Growing up on a farm is an enriching experience for most children – one they appreciate more as they grow into adulthood. Make sure they stay safe along the way.

4 steps to prevent back strain

A big shipment came in and your boss asks you to help unload the truck. Or maybe the garage sale is over and you’re packing up boxes to take to your local charity. You’re feeling good until you pick up a box and a sudden, sharp pain shoots through your lower back.

Poor lifting techniques can cause short-term pain or long-term injury. When lifting at home or on the job, protect yourself by following some good advice:

1. Strengthen your core
Those six-pack abs are more than cosmetic. If you are prone to back injuries, chances are your core is what needs attention. The muscles in your abdomen and pelvis play a crucial role in supporting your spine. Strengthening your core and tightening it when preparing to lift will help prevent injury.

2. Bend at the knees
We’ve all heard it before, so why don’t we heed the advice?! When picking something up, bend your knees and hips to squat down to the object, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. As you stand, hug the item close to your body, using the muscles in your legs, hips, and buttocks to do the work. Or, kneel down proposal-style and lift the box onto your bended knee. Then, use your leg muscles to stand.

3. Keep the natural curve in your back
The traditional advice is to lift with your back straight, but experts today are more likely to tell you to “keep the natural curve in your back.” The goal is to maintain a proper spine position without hunching your shoulders, curving your back outward, or twisting when lifting.

4. Breathe
Avoid holding your breath, as that can lead to a dangerous increase in blood pressure. Instead, take a deep breath and exhale while you lift.

In addition to practicing proper lifting techniques, the most important advice is to know your limits. Seek help when necessary. Your back will thank you later.

Make fall prevention on job sites a daily priority

One wrong step and a construction worker can tumble down a steeply pitched roof, slide or drop off an unstable ladder, or be left hanging from a scaffold. The difference between an unexpected stumble and tragedy is simple: fall protection.

Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. Hundreds of workers die each year and thousands more suffer catastrophic and debilitating injuries. Yet, lack of proper fall protection remains the most frequently cited violation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). To recognize this often fatal hazard, tens of thousands of employers and more than a million workers across the country joined OSHA in 2014 for a weeklong Fall Safety Stand-Down, the largest occupational safety event ever held. It is now an annual observance.

Building on last year's widespread participation, OSHA made this year's Stand-Down a two-week event May 4-15, 2015. Employers and workers paused during their workday for topic talks, demonstrations, and training on how to use safety harnesses, guard rails, and other safeguards to protect workers from falls. Underscoring the importance of this effort, industry and business leaders, including universities, labor organizations, and community and faith-based groups, scheduled stand-downs in all 50 states and around the world.

While the national observance happens only once a year, preventing falls must be a priority every day. The National Safety Stand-Down website provides details on how to conduct a Stand-Down and gives access to free education and training resources, fact sheets, and other outreach materials in English and Spanish. These resources are available on their website.

"With the economy on the rebound and housing starts on the rise, now is the time to for all of us to renew our commitment to sending workers home safe every night," said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "Last year's Stand-Down showed us what employers and workers sharing that commitment can accomplish. Responsible employers understand that safety is not a luxury — it is a necessity."

The National Fall Safety Stand-Down is part of OSHA's fall prevention campaign, launched three years ago with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH's National Occupational Research Agenda, and The Center for Construction Research and Training. Additional partners for this year's event include: American Society for Safety Engineers, National Safety Council, National Construction Safety Executives, the United States Air Force, OSHA-approved state plans, state consultation programs, and OSHA Training Institute Education Centers.

"No child should lose a parent, no wife should lose a husband, and no worker should lose their life in a preventable fall," said NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard. "The Stand-Down serves as an important opportunity for worksites to recognize the hazards that cause them, and to train employers and workers how to avoid them so that these senseless tragedies can be prevented once and for all."

SECURA policyholders are encouraged to share their Safety Stand-Down activities with their SECURA Risk Management Consultant or insurance agent. 

Keep your yard safe no matter who shows up to play

When you build a tree fort, add a pool, or put in a swing set, your yard becomes a playground for your kids. But that also could make it attractive to neighbor kids and, even if they’re not invited, you could be liable for their injuries on your property.

Take these steps to protect your property and keep your kids and their friends — invited or not — safe.

Tree fort
  • Bolt the ladder down for safe entry.
  • Build adequate railings if there’s an open deck, porch, or bridge on the tree house.

  • Surround the pool with a fence or barrier on all sides, and install a self-closing, self-latching gate with a latch at least 54 inches from the ground.
  • Keep toys away from the pool when not in use. Toys could lure children toward the water, where they can easily fall in. See more pool safety tips.

  • Use a protective surface such as mulch, sand, or wood chips to cover the ground and reduce the risk of injury if children fall.
  • Set up your play set far enough from other obstacles, trees, or furniture in your yard — especially if it has a swing.

For any of these play areas at your home, regular maintenance is key. Check for loose or worn hardware, places that could pinch fingers, rusty metal, chipped paint, and splinters or decaying wood. You also should supervise your kids when they’re playing.

While these additions to your property typically are covered by your homeowners policy, they may require extra coverage. Talk to your independent insurance agent to make sure you’re protected.

What to expect when OSHA visits your business

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with enforcing safety and health requirements in the workplace. OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officers are highly trained industrial hygienists and safety professionals. Their goal is to assure compliance with OSHA requirements and help employers and employees reduce on-the-job hazards. This helps achieve the ultimate goal of preventing injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace.

Most OSHA inspections are conducted without advance notice, making it a good idea for your company to pre-plan a strategy in the event of an inspection. Employers have the right to require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite. Rest assured, they will return.

OSHA priorities
Before we discuss what to do when they show up, let’s first examine how they got to your door in the first place. OSHA cannot inspect all seven million workplaces it covers each year. Instead, the agency tends to focus inspections on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:
  1. Imminent danger situation – Hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm receive top priority. Compliance officers will ask employers to correct these hazards immediately or remove endangered employees.
  2. Fatalities and catastrophes – These are incidents that involve a death or the hospitalization of three or more employees. Employers are required to report such catastrophes to OSHA within eight hours.
  3. Complaints – Allegations of hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request anonymity when they file complaints.
  4. Referrals – Hazard information provided from other federal, state, or local agencies; individuals; organizations; or the media receive consideration for inspection.
  5. Follow-ups – Checks for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections also are conducted by the agency in some circumstances.
  6. Planned or programmed investigations – Inspections aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses receive priority.

All complaints are prioritized based on perceived severity. With permission from the complainant, OSHA may choose to contact the employer via telephone for low priority hazards. The compliance officer will describe the safety and health concerns and follow up with a fax providing details about alleged safety and health hazards. The employer must respond in writing within five working days, identifying any problems found and noting corrective actions taken or planned.

If the response is adequate and the complainant is satisfied with the response, OSHA generally will not conduct an on-site inspection. It is important to provide a thorough response in a timely manner. Providing evidence of compliance, such as photographs, training documentation, etc., also will help to close the case without an on-site inspection.

Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the inspection history of a worksite using various data sources, and review the operations and processes in use and the standards most likely to apply. They gather appropriate personal protective equipment and testing instruments to measure potential hazards.

Presentation of credentials
The on-site inspection will not begin until the compliance officer has provided the employer with his credentials, which include a photograph and serial number. Do not begin the opening conference or inspection process until the appropriate management personnel are present.

Train receptionists and facility guards on the process in the event a compliance officer arrives.

Opening conference
The compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected the workplace for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection, walk-around procedures, and employee representation and interviews. The employer then selects a representative(s) to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection.

An authorized representative of the employees, if any, also has the right to go along. In any case, the compliance officer will consult privately with a reasonable number of employees during the inspection.

At the opening conference, it is a good idea to obtain a copy of the complaint. The complaint will not contain the name of the complainant. Do not comment about the reason for the complaint or the person you believe made the complaint. Employees who have registered safety complaints are protected from discrimination or retaliation by their employer under the OSH Act.

If OSHA plans to hold an industrial hygiene inspection, determine what tests or monitoring OSHA will conduct, and ask about the intended test procedures. Find out the number of individuals tested, equipment being used, chemicals being sampled, and duration of the test.

If able, you should do simultaneous testing to verify the accuracy of the results. The compliance officer may agree to defer testing to a later date if you ask to conduct simultaneous testing.

After the opening conference, the compliance officer and representatives will walk through the portions of the workplace covered by the inspection, checking for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. The compliance officer also will review worksite injury and illness records, and posting of the official OSHA poster.

During the walk-around, compliance officers may point out some apparent violations that you can correct immediately. While the law requires that these hazards must be cited, prompt correction is a sign of good faith on the part of the employer. Compliance officers try to minimize work interruptions during the inspection and will keep confidential any trade secrets they observe.

Employee representatives should define areas that the inspector will need to see and restrict the visit to those areas or departments. Determine the route to the designated areas before escorting the compliance officer to the destination. Compliance officers can cite any violation they find in “plain view,” no matter the purpose of the inspection.

Do not offer a facility tour to the compliance officer. 

Assign at least one of the employee representatives to take notes, photographs, and/or video during the inspection. Notes should include all observations made by the inspector, departments visited, equipment inspected, and individuals interviewed.

Take a photo of any item photographed by the compliance officer. If the photo is of an isolated violation, take photos of similar areas that do not share the same violation. If the compliance officer requests a copy of records or documents, make additional copies to keep with your inspection file. 

Closing conference
After the walk-around, the compliance officer holds a closing conference with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss the findings. The compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer may take following an inspection that could include an informal conference with OSHA or contesting citations and proposed penalties. The compliance officer also discusses consultation and employee rights.

The closing conference may be delayed based on the size of the inspection or testing results. This also is the time to promote company safety programs and the company’s commitment to employee safety and health. Showing good faith and a dedication to safety can help reduce potential penalty amounts. Be careful about setting abatement dates, and allow ample time to correct the violations. Point out factual mistakes and discuss disputes, but do not argue with the compliance officer.

OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation’s occurrence. Citations describe OSHA requirements allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties, and provide a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards.

Violations are categorized as other-than-serious, serious, willful, repeated, and failure to abate. Penalties may range up to $7,000 for each serious violation and up to $70,000 for each willful or repeated violation. Penalties may be reduced based on an employer’s good faith, inspection history, and size of business. For serious violations, OSHA also may reduce the proposed penalty based on the gravity of the alleged violation. No good faith adjustment will be made for alleged willful violations.

When OSHA issues a citation to an employer, it also offers the employer an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates, or any other information pertinent to the inspection.

The agency and the employer may work out a settlement agreement to resolve the matter and to eliminate the hazard. OSHA’s primary goal is correcting hazards and maintaining compliance rather than issuing citations or collecting penalties.

Alternatively, employers have 15 working days after receipt of citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the Area Director. OSHA forwards the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for independent review.

Citations, penalties, and abatement dates that are not challenged by the employer or settled become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The ultimate goal
We know that employee safety is your number one priority. The regulations and guidelines provided by OSHA provide a great framework for achieving that goal.

Full compliance is possible by following these inspection guidelines and implementing any changes recommended by the compliance officer.

Playing it safe on the playground

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. How many times did we hear that as children? Yet, more than 200,000 children are taken to the emergency room for playground equipment-related injuries each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Kids can stay safe and still have fun. But it’s important to put these safety measures in place for your facility’s playground:

Playground equipment should sit on a well-cushioned base of wood chips, sand, pea gravel, shredded rubber, or safety-tested rubber mats. How much fill you need depends on the material and the potential fall height, although the CPSC recommends a depth of 12 inches as a general guideline.

When kids are climbing on play equipment, they’ll often stick their feet through an opening first and then attempt to slide the rest of their body through, getting stuck in the process. Make sure openings in guardrails and ladders are less than 3.5 inches or more than nine inches.

Other safety tips
  • Check for sharp points or protruding hardware.
  • Look for trip hazards like tree roots or exposed concrete footings.
  • Review equipment spacing. For example, an eight-foot swing set should have 16 feet of clearance front and back to prevent a child from falling (or jumping) off and striking another piece of equipment. Slides should have a minimum of six feet clearance at the bottom exit.

Promote play
Playground safety doesn’t mean wrapping kids in bubble wrap. The goal is still to have fun. With that in mind, provide adequate adult supervision for your playground, but don’t simplify the play structures so much that kids get bored and leave them unused.

For help evaluating your playground, visit the National Recreation and Park Association website for certified inspectors in your area, and check out our Playground Safety Checklist.