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Flue season: Have your fireplace and chimney inspected

By Paul Thibault

Flue season: Have your fireplace and chimney inspected

Inspect your fireplace and chimney annually.

Home heating fires are the second leading cause of home fire deaths after cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Fireplaces, chimneys and flues account for a significant number of home heating fires.

Homeowners with a wood-burning fireplace or solid fuel stove or insert can protect your property and your family by having a qualified professional inspect and clean your chimney at least annually to prevent a buildup of creosote.

Creosote is a tarry residue or solid organic compound caused by incomplete combustion of wood that can build up in chimneys and ignite a chimney fire. A heavily used fireplace or stove may require periodic cleaning throughout the heating season. NFPA statistics show that failure to clean creosote from chimneys was the leading factor in 28 percent of the home heating equipment fires between 2007 and 2011.

The U.S. Fire Administration offers a series of videos showing how to safely build and tend a fire. Additional tips for safe fireplace and wood stove use:

  • Equip your fireplace with a sturdy glass or metal screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
  • Inspect your fireplace’s flue prior to use for any obstructions or blockage by using a flashlight and looking up the flue. This also assures that the flue’s damper control is open prior to lighting the fire.
  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from the fireplace or wood stove. NFPA statistics show 53 percent of fires resulting in home heating fire deaths were caused by having heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.
  • Only adults should build and tend a fire; enforce a three-foot “kid-free zone” around fireplaces and wood stoves.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for inserts. For fireplaces and wood stoves, use only seasoned wood. Green wood increases creosote buildup.
  • Do not burn cardboard, wrapping paper or other rubbish in the fireplace or wood stove.
  • Never use lighter fluid or any flammable or combustible liquids to start the fire.
  • Make sure a fully charged fire extinguisher is nearby and accessible.
  • Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors as recommended, change the batteries twice a year, and test them according to manufacturer’s recommendations, usually monthly.
  • Put out fireplace fires before going to sleep or leaving your home.
  • Allow ashes to cool prior to cleaning …read more

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4 things to know about fiduciary and employee benefits coverage

By Suzi Frye

4 things to know about fiduciary and employee benefits coverage

If you are the officer, owner or director who makes the decisions about your company’s employee benefit plans, your personal assets may be at stake without the protection of fiduciary and employee benefits coverage.

WHAT IS IT?

You may already be familiar with fidelity bonds required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) that protects the employee benefit plans from theft by fiduciaries. However, fiduciary and employee benefits coverage helps protect the decision makers in areas that the ERISA bond does not cover: liability claims, mismanagement or errors and omissions made while administering employee benefit plans such as 401(k), Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and health insurance.

WHO ARE FIDUCIARIES?

Fiduciaries could be the plan’s trustees, investment committee members or even responsible parties who appoint those people. Even if you hire other professionals to invest assets or administer the benefits plan for your business, you retain the ultimate responsibility for selecting, maintaining and monitoring the performance of those professional managers.

Fiduciaries also could be those you have hired or placed in authority for administering your benefit plans. And, especially now that the Affordable Care Act has redefined our nation’s healthcare system, these plans are ever evolving and changing.

WHY DO YOU AND YOUR ORGANIZATION NEED IT?

Your fiduciaries could make an honest mistake in a change of forms, coverage explanations or the employee’s transfer in and out of a plan, leaving your organization subject to lawsuits, fines and penalties. As the decision maker, you may be named personally in a lawsuit. Claims can be brought by plan participants, the Department of Labor or a participant’s legal estate and may include allegations of:

  • Improper advice or disclosure
  • Breach of fiduciary duty
  • Neglect in administrating a plan
  • Lack of investment diversity
  • Inappropriate selection of advisors or even service providers

Consult your legal counsel and your company’s insurance professional to see if fiduciary and employee benefits coverage could help your organization cover the expense of litigation and the costs associated with these allegations.

RISK MANAGEMENT TIPS

Your organization can enhance your ERISA risk management program and limit your exposure by:

  • Doing regular performance reviews of your staff who oversee and make plan decisions.
  • Using established investment firms when handling plan assets.
  • Having an actuarial firm review your plans annually.
  • Using a law firm with experience in ERISA regulations to make sure plans are ERISA compliant.
  • Consulting your local independent insurance agent.

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Preparation can prevent pipe freezes

By Cincinnati Loss Control

Preparation can prevent pipe freezes

When pipes freeze and burst, the results can be costly and time consuming to remediate. Protect your prized personal possessions or important business equipment from damage by preventing pipe freezes. Do you know what to do? Test your knowledge with our five-question quiz.

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Can health clubs be safe doing that?

By Brian Rawlings

Can health clubs be safe doing that?

Place lifeguards at the top and bottom of a water slide.

Health clubs competing fiercely for membership and revenue are always looking to attract and retain members and their disposable dollars. Keeping up with the latest trends and fads by putting in a functional training area, Pilates studio or TRX suspension training is one way.

Another method often involves adding fun attractions such as water slides, climbing walls, trampolines and inflatables for parties.

While these added activities can grow your business, they can also increase your chance of a potential loss. Consider these controls to keep your members safe and mitigate your risks.

TRAMPOLINES
  • Allow only one person at a time
  • Do not allow flips
  • Assign staff to supervise at all times
  • Lock when not in use
  • Make sure no one goes underneath the trampoline
INFLATABLES
  • Assign staff to supervise at all times
  • Use indoors only
  • Restrict usage to birthday parties and well-supervised events
  • Advise users to remove shoes, necklaces, eyeglasses, jewelry, etc.
  • Follow the recommended maximum capacity guidelines
  • Group participants by age and size
WATER SLIDES
  • Properly slope stairs or ladders and equip with slip-resistant surface and handrails on both sides
  • Require pool splashdown to be a dedicated chute, or rope off the area from the rest of the pool; maintain a minimum depth of 8 feet
  • Station lifeguards on both top and bottom of slide and control entry
ROCK WALL
  • Assign trained staff to supervise at all times
  • Lock when not in use
  • Train all participants
  • Establish a dedicated inspection process with a third-party vendor

Before adding any of these activities, consider consulting with your attorney to determine if you need a new or revised wavier to address unique risks involved. Also, advise users to consult with their doctor before participating in these activities, especially if they have health issues such as high blood pressure, heart problems, or bone or joint problems.

Your membership base will love these new features and, hopefully, your numbers will increase if you add them; but take all appropriate steps to keep people safe. Work with your insurance company and independent agent to make sure you have the right controls in place to do just that!

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Information about our company is available on our website.

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12 things to look for when reviewing a contract

By Jerry Varney

12 things to look for when reviewing a contract

Careful review of contracts can reduce risk for your organization.

Whether you’re signing a lease agreement or a multi-million dollar service agreement for new software, contracts are a fact of life in any business. A contract review requires diligence and an eye for detail. Managing expectations, focusing on outcomes and getting the key information from vendors can also help achieve better outcomes in contract management.

It is not uncommon for otherwise very careful people to glance over a contract and just sign it without really knowing what it obligates them or the other party to do. Consult with an attorney before signing any contract to make sure your interests are protected.

What should you look for when reviewing a contract? Here are a few suggestions; your attorney may have additional advice:

  1. Negotiate the terms. When presented with a contract, remember that this is a starting point. You can negotiate the terms of nearly every agreement. Understand the purpose and scope of the contract and ask for what you want. You want to make the deal happen, but so does the other person. The worst that can happen is they say “no.”
  2. Identify the parties. Be sure to include the names and addresses of any subsidiaries that will provide services.
  3. Complete all blanks. Items left blank can be filled in later by someone else, so be sure to fill them in. It’s also good to initial all changes or deletions on any preprinted forms.
  4. Rights and responsibilities. It’s important to capture who’s responsible for what and who is liable if something doesn’t happen according to the contract. Never rely on an oral understanding. Know all of your rights and responsibilities under the contract. Carefully read the entire contract because rights and responsibilities are typically scattered throughout the agreement.
  5. Confidentiality provisions. Determine if the other party will have access to any of your nonpublic personal or protected health information and, if so, consider including a provision requiring them to handle and secure the information in a commercially reasonable manner consistent with applicable federal and state laws.
  6. Remedies provisions. No one wants to talk about the bad stuff, such as what happens if something goes wrong, but you need to consider these things to put necessary mechanisms in place. Explore ways to limit your liability. Also determine what types of remedies you need in the event of default by the other party.
  7. Allocating risk. Determine how risk is to be allocated. Risk is …read more

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Make a plan for business continuation

By Dane Albright

Make a plan for business continuation

Make a positive plan to continue your business for future generations.

When it comes to business continuation planning, the phrase “you can either fail to plan or plan to fail” certainly applies. As a business owner, you may have created a formal business plan or have done no planning at all. But if you fail to plan your own exit strategy, forces beyond your control may create a plan for you.

Business continuation planning is a systematic plan to either continue or dispose of your business interest in the event of your retirement, disability or death.

Many business owners hold one of three common misconceptions:

  • My family can run my business.
    In many instances, the family may not be capable nor interested in running the business. No one in your family may be capable of completing your duties, and it may take substantial time and money to hire a replacement. Without your expertise, banks may be less likely to lend money to keep the business afloat.
  • One of my employees can run my business.
    Possibly, but wouldn’t they want to be compensated for the additional duties of running a business? How do they pay the surviving family members for their share of the inherited business? If the employee does a poor job, the value for the heirs decreases.
  • A competitor will buy my business.
    This could happen, however, it is more likely that a competitor will look to take customers from your business or pay a “fire sale” price for the business as a whole.

There are several types of life insurance that can help.

KEY PERSON INSURANCE

Key person life insurance is owned by the business on the life of a key employee, purchased to help reimburse an employer for the economic loss caused by the death of the employee. As such, key person life insurance is not just a specific type of life insurance policy, but is an effective way for a business entity to use life insurance. With appropriate ownership and beneficiary designations, the policy can be used to fund business needs.

BUY-SELL COVERAGE

A buy-sell agreement funded with life insurance provides that someone (for example, the business entity, the surviving owners or a key employee) will purchase a deceased owner’s interest at an agreed-upon price; and the deceased owner’s estate is obligated to sell the interest at that price. Life insurance provides the immediate funds necessary to complete the transaction.

PERSONAL LIFE INSURANCE

Personally owned life insurance provides income replacement for your …read more

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Fire safety and the older adult

By Jim Yeater

Fire safety and the older adult

It’s a sad, but true, statistic that older adults are more likely to die in a home fire than the general population. According to the U.S Fire Administration, adults 65 and older are 2.5 times more likely to die in a fire, and that number increases to 4.5 times more likely when they reach age 85. Although older adults represented 13 percent of our population, they suffered 36 percent of all fire deaths in 2011.

Many factors make fire safety more challenging for an older adult, including reduced mobility and physical, cognitive and sensory limitations that may put them at greater risk of death or injury.

Compounding our concern is the fact that many older adults are unable to afford necessary home improvements that could substantially reduce their risk of fire.

Visit an older adult in your life and help him or her take these steps to improve home fire safety:

  • Place smoke alarms on every level of the home and inside and outside of sleeping areas
  • Test smoke alarms each month
  • Assure that smoke alarms are less than 10 years old
  • Make sure occupants can hear smoke alarms from any room; Smoke alarms with strobe lights and pillow vibrators are available for the hearing impaired.
  • Smoke outside only, never in a bed or around medical oxygen
  • Develop a fire escape plan that shows two ways out of every room
  • Make sure escape plans consider everyone’s needs, including those who use a wheelchair, cane, hearing aid or glasses
  • Practice the escape plan at least twice a year

The U.S. Fire Administration offers additional resources to educate older adults about the importance of home fire safety:

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Keep safe and warm when using space heaters

By Marty Skidmore

Keep safe and warm when using space heaters

Follow safety guidelines when using space heaters.

Many of us use portable electric space heaters to help keep us warm, but they can be hazardous if not used properly. Take precautions to keep your family safe from fire or burns.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an average of 50,100 home heating fires occurred in the U.S. each year from 2008 to 2010. About 900 fires are attributed to portable heaters. While they represent only 2 percent of home heating fires, portable heaters were involved in 45 percent of all heating fires with a fatality.

Before you use an electric space heater:

  • Check to be sure the heater is clean and in good condition. Thoroughly inspect the cord and plug of electrical heaters for damage. You can check whether it is certified by Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Place heaters out of high traffic areas and on a level, hard, nonflammable floor surface – not on carpets, rugs, furniture or countertops.
  • Place the heater at least three feet from combustible liquids as well as flammable items such as draperies, blankets and sofas.
  • Take care when moving around space heaters not to brush up against them or drag loose clothing.
  • Do not use space heaters to thaw pipes, cook food or dry clothing or towels.
  • Keep children and pets away from an electric space heater as accidental contact could result in serious shock or burns.
  • Do not place heaters under desks or other enclosed areas.
  • Never leave the heater operating while unattended or while you are sleeping.
  • Never power an electric space heater with an extension cord or power strip.
  • Never run an electric space heater’s cord under rugs or carpeting.

Note that unvented kerosene and gas heaters have been banned in many jurisdictions. Kerosene, gas and propane heaters — anything that uses combustible fuel — present additional risk of death or injury from carbon monoxide poisoning and are not recommended for use in closed spaces.

As an added precaution, check smoke alarms to be sure they are in proper working order before using electric heaters.

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Learn the facts about home fire sprinklers

By Camlyn Zanardelli

Learn the facts about home fire sprinklers

Click to download a PDF about home fire sprinklers.

In 2013, more than 300,000 residential fires caused 2,500 deaths and cost $6.8 million in losses in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

But NFPA research shows that installing a sprinkler system could save lives and reduce the damage done to a house by 70 percent.

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