Smoking and driving — more dangerous than cellphones?

The driver of a heavy SUV sped through a stop light while trying to light a cigarette. You can imagine the scene: a cigarette in his mouth, an elbow on the steering wheel, and the other hand fumbling with a butane lighter. The driver narrowly missed several cars waiting to make a left-hand turn.

A lot of attention is focused on distracted driving and cellphone use lately, and rightly so. But many can become complacent about the dangers that smoking and driving can present.

An Italian study suggests that smoking and driving is even more dangerous than cellphone use while driving. In this study, at 31 mph, it took the average cellphone user 10.6 seconds to react to stimuli, while smokers took 12 seconds. The former group took 492 feet to come to a stop, while the latter took 523 feet. Those results in distance and danger increase exponentially with speed. The study suggests that smoking while driving is a hazard for both drivers and the public with whom they share the road.

Another study suggests that the smoke and particulate matter inside the vehicle, combined with the distraction of handling smoking materials and the behavioral risk habits of smokers themselves, leads to increased danger while driving. Smokers frequently squint to see through smoke in their vehicles or try to find a lit cigarette that fell from their lips before it burns a hole in the seat or carpet. 

Many states do not allow smoking in the workplace. In theory, employees who use their vehicles or company-assigned vehicles should not smoke while on company business. However, enforcement is often lax and varies from business to business. Smoking in a vehicle decreases its value, saturating upholstery and carpet with odors and burns. It also leaves a film on glass and hard surfaces.

The link between smoking and driving is so strong for many drivers that some counselors recommend quitting lighting up in the car before quitting altogether. It is not an easy behavior to correct, but it is one that affects the bottom line of every business owner.

Employers should enforce no-smoking-while-driving rules and educate their employees about the other dangers smoking drivers can create for their business.

Get more safety resources on Prevention Connection

If you visit our blog often, you know you’ll find lots of risk management tips and insurance information. We also have another online safety resource: Prevention ConnectionSM.

This site features a variety of topics to help you improve your safety, whether you run a business or nonprofit, have a home, or own a farm.

Plus, SECURA policyholders have access on the site to on-demand video training geared toward helping business owners and employers educate their employees about safety. You’ll need your SECURA policy number to view the videos.

Access Prevention Connection on

Avoid sprains, pains, and strains in the garden

Gardening isn’t necessarily a “gentle” hobby. You can burn more than 500 calories an hour doing yard work like digging dirt and moving rocks. Even mowing the lawn can burn more than 300 calories an hour, assuming it’s not a riding lawnmower. And while all that activity can be great for improving your overall fitness, it also can lead to some serious muscle strain.

Think of pulling weeds and raking leaves like any traditional workout and treat your body accordingly. Before you start, take a few moments to warm up with stretches, arm circles, gentle squats, and lunges.

And while you’re gardening, be purposeful about taking breaks to avoid over-exertion. Pushing yourself too fast or too hard can lead to missteps and injuries.

More tips to prevent garden strains and sprains:

  • Change it up. Switch tasks to prevent repetitive motion injuries. When raking or shoveling, for example, switch from one hand to the other to balance the impact on your muscles.
  • Bend at the hips and knees. This will help you avoid using your back muscles when doing heavy work. 
  • Use a wagon or wheelbarrow. Spare your body when transporting shrubbery or rocks.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects by yourself.
  • Wear proper footwear. Save the flip flops for your garden party. Wear firm soled shoes with closed toes and ankle support when working in the garden.
  • Keep your tetanus vaccination up-to-date. The bacteria that causes tetanus lives in soil and manure and can enter your body through any tiny nicks and cuts.
  • Stop if it hurts. There’s no glory in working through the pain. Continuous aggravation of a strained muscle can lead to permanent damage and chronic pain.

And before you even pick up a shovel, remember that the most important safety tip is to know the location of underground utility lines. Always contact Diggers Hotline or a similar service in your area before you plant a tree or shrub or do any new digging in your yard. It will help you avoid an even bigger “pain.”

SECURA brings family home after crisis

As Jim Paschen awoke that morning in early January, he reflected on all that happened since he and his wife, Evelyn, showed up at the front door of their Florida condominium. On the day they arrived a week earlier, Evelyn tripped and broke her elbow. What followed was a whirlwind of doctor visits, medication adjustments, and a surgery to repair the damage.

With the start of a new week, Jim thought things would settle down and that he and Evelyn could finally start enjoying their winter retreat away from the bitter cold of Wisconsin. He saw that Evelyn was already out of bed and heard her rustling in the bathroom, so he made his way to see how she was doing.

There, his hopes of a new start were met with gripping fear. One look and he knew. Evelyn had a stroke.

Jim called 9-1-1 and she was rushed to the hospital. The minor surgical procedure on her elbow that took place a few days earlier required that Evelyn stop taking her blood-thinning medication. The result was a blood clot that caused the now life-threatening stroke.

Getting the help she needed
Far from home, Jim called his son and daughter who made travel arrangements to meet him in Florida and offer support. Jim knew he needed to get Evelyn back to Wisconsin to her own doctors and familiar surroundings. His daughter coincidentally is a nurse who specializes in strokes and confirmed the importance of getting Evelyn home for a full recovery.

But the doctors required that Evelyn travel via special medical air transport and not a regular commercial flight. At a cost of more than $20,000, the task seemed insurmountable.

“Then I recalled a pamphlet I received with the policy renewal for my home and auto insurance from SECURA Insurance – something about a service called Travel Rescuer,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure what it was or if it could help, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

Jim contacted his independent insurance agent, Dawn Hoffmann from Schueller/Harrington Agency in Milwaukee, Wis. She immediately provided all the necessary information and gave Jim the toll-free phone number for the service.

“We made the call. From there, the wheels started turning,” he said.

Jim came to fully realize that he automatically received Travel RescuerSM when Dawn sold him his MILE-STONE Gold policy from SECURA a few years earlier. It provides 24/7 emergency and non-emergency travel, medical, and security assistance to policyholders who travel 100 or more miles from home, for no additional cost. 

“To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to it before,” Jim shared. “For all I knew, the service covered a flat tire or would send help if I was stranded on the side of the road. [Roadside RescuerSM – another service on Jim’s policy] I could never have imagined what happened next.”

Above and beyond
While Jim and his children consulted with doctors and attended to Evelyn, SECURA’s travel assistance provider worked diligently to make arrangements. “The next thing I knew, they told us to check our email for our travel itinerary,” he said.

They arranged for Jim’s wife and daughter to be picked up the next morning by ambulance, taken to the airport, transferred to a medical transport plane, and flown to Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee where there was another ambulance waiting – all at no cost to their family. “They attended to her with such care,” he said. “I was so impressed.”

Within days of making the call, Evelyn was home in Wisconsin and being cared for by her own doctors and specialists at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee.

Dawn, Jim’s agent, was equally impressed with the service. “From a human perspective, this is what insurance should be about,” she said. “It’s not just about repairing a damaged vehicle or home; it’s about people’s lives.”

Spreading the word
People don’t always talk about good service, but Jim can’t stop telling everyone he knows about his story and how SECURA came to the rescue. He’s referred numerous customers and generated several opportunities for Dawn to write new business.

Dawn notes that a key selling point for Travel Rescuer is that it’s a free added value. It is automatically included with SECURA’s MILE-STONE Gold policy for home and auto, as well as  Farm policies with Agri-Protector Plus. In addition to bringing peace of mind to policyholders, Dawn likes that when one of her customers uses the service, it isn’t counted as a claim on their policy.

Meanwhile, Jim put the condo in Florida up for sale and decided to stay closer to family and the familiar. Evelyn was released from the hospital and is recovering at home. “Things are returning to normal – minus a thousand throw rugs that she could trip on,” said Jim with a chuckle.

He is hopeful as he describes her strong-willed spirit. “She’s an amazing person who’s overcome a lot of obstacles – breast cancer, pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, and more,” he said. “We’ll tackle this one together, too.”

*Due to state regulatory restrictions, Travel Rescuer is not available to Illinois residents.

Tutors bring lasting change to students

The summer sun was fading as he pushed the grocery cart through the parking lot, navigating between parked cars and the occasional pedestrian. As he approached his car to unload the bags full of canned goods, produce, and frozen entrees, he heard someone call his name. “Mr. Nimtz, wait up!”

He turned to see one of the store’s grocery baggers, a teenage boy, running toward him. He wondered, “Did I forget something?”

The boy looked familiar, but Dave couldn’t put his finger on where he’d seen him before. Breathless, the boy approached him. “I had to run and tell you thank you,” said the boy.  Seeing the searching gaze in Dave’s eyes, the boy continued. “I’m Troy. You volunteered to tutor me when I was in grade school. I just wanted to thank you for all the time you spent with me. It really made a difference in my life.”

Of course. It was clear now. The eyes were the same as those of that insecure fourth grade student he tutored for an hour each week, years earlier. He had grown to become a young man, and Dave’s questions were finally answered. Did he make a lasting difference in the boy’s life? Yes. He did.

Dave Nimtz has been a tutor at Foster Elementary School for nearly 15 years as part of SECURA Insurance’s partnership with the school. He serves in the legal department at the company. In all, more than 40 SECURA associates provide one-on-one mentoring to students at the school, which is among the more challenged in the Appleton, Wis. district. Only the neediest children are assigned a tutor. With one-quarter of Foster School children being English learning language students and 58 percent receiving free or reduced lunches, they experience many challenges.

Troy wasn’t the first student Dave mentored, or the last. In particular, an outgoing first grader named Rolando holds a special place in his heart. “When I first met Rolando he had a hard time focusing,” said Dave. “Let’s just say he had a lot of energy. The main reason he needed a tutor was for his reading, so we would read Dr. Seuss books together.”

The relationship with Rolando grew, and soon their activities expanded outside the classroom to include trips to the local minor league ballpark in the summer. Sometimes they would just talk about things going on in each other’s lives. As the tutoring continued, Dave discovered that Rolando was very good at math and, with time, also became a very good reader.

“I was more than just his tutor,” said Dave. “I will never forget when Rolando told me I was his best friend.”

After several years, the time came for Rolando to move on to middle school. On their last day in the classroom, Dave and the boy put aside homework and just talked. Rolando shared about his fears of moving on to a new school and how things would change. With a big hug, he said, “Thank you for being my friend.”

Foster School principal, Matt Zimmerman has seen the difference that tutoring makes in his students’ lives firsthand. “Kids need to have someone at school besides just the teacher who they know cares about them,” said Matt. “Kids need to be told they are good at something and they need to be given the opportunity to do what they are good at. I think SECURA tutors provide the avenue for our kids to meet all three of those needs.”

The role that tutors and mentors play goes beyond just encouragement and building self-esteem. Their involvement in these young people’s lives has directly resulted in fewer behavioral issues, meaning fewer disciplinary trips to the office. 98 percent of the students who work with a SECURA tutor received one or zero office referrals in a year, compared to a previous average of 4-5. And test scores for Foster students rose as much as 10 percent. “The students who helped to increase that percentage in many cases were the same students who worked with a SECURA tutor,” said Principal Zimmerman. 

Though the company has provided tutors for nearly 15 years, it has been a part of building Foster School’s success in other ways since the early 1990s. In addition to the mentoring program, SECURA provides financial assistance, has donated laptop computers, and sponsors field trips and various cultural experiences.

For Dave, he feels that being a SECURA tutor has enriched his life as much as it has the lives of the students he’s mentored. “It’s tough when the student you’ve been working with for a few years graduates and moves on to another school,” said Dave. “You wonder what’s going to happen and how they’ll adjust. It’s then that you have to trust the foundation you built together and know that the years spent together will stick with him.”

Somehow, Dave knows they will. It was made clear to him on a night when the summer sun was fading and a young man ran to meet him. “Mr. Nimtz, wait up…”

Top 5 tips for spring spruce-up safety

As the weather warms up and the sun shines longer each day, many homeowners start their spring cleaning. If you’re clearing out debris and dusting some rarely seen corners this season, stay safe with these reminders:

1.   Moving appliances and furniture
Get help if you want to clean under heavy appliances like your washer, dryer, or stove. Don’t risk straining your back by trying to move something too heavy for you. If you are moving furniture, remember to keep your back straight and lift with your legs.

2.    Ladders and step stools
Whether you’re cleaning windows or the top of your kitchen cupboards, always use caution when on a ladder or stool. Don’t lean too far to one side — get down and move the ladder instead. A good rule of thumb is to keep your belly button inside the rungs of the ladder.

3.    Beware of fumes
Ventilation is key whenever using cleaning products that create fumes. Bring in fresh air by opening a window or turning on the exhaust fan. It’s always best to use one cleaning product per job, and never combine ammonia and bleach — the chemical reaction will create potentially lethal toxic fumes. Gloves also are advisable to prevent skin irritation or chemical burns.

4.    Paints and poisons
Put cleaning products away promptly to avoid unwanted interest from kids and pets. Clearly label household chemicals and poisons, and store them out of children’s reach. Dispose of anything that’s leaking or products you haven’t used in years by taking them to your community’s hazardous waste drop-off site. 

5.    Easy does it
Rushing through a job increases the opportunity for injury. Break your spring cleaning tasks into small, manageable chunks so you don’t feel compelled to overexert yourself or take unnecessary risks.