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    Thursday
    Feb282019

    Sexual Harassment and Its Damaging Effects for Your Workplace

    When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace it is emotionally traumatizing to the victim.  In addition to this, news of the harassment creates a negative workplace environment, can lead to health problems for the victim and can compromise workplace safety.  Financial losses can also directly and indirectly impact companies resulting from absenteeism, decreased productivity, increased healthcare costs, low morale and high employee turnover.  Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the employer and their employee can both be held liable for the sexual harassment

    Understanding sexual harassment is the first step in preventing it.  Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem and reports reveal that it is on the rise.  In fact, one in four women will reportedly experience sexual harassment on the job.  One in eight men file a sexual harassment claim.

    The definition of sexual harassment is evolving and now broadly includes any form of sexual conduct that interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. 

    Sexual harassment can occur by men towards women, women towards men or among members of the same gender.  The harasser does not need to be the victim's superior.  It can occur between co-workers or even those who do not work for the same company.  The abuse can be physical, verbal or even more conspicuous such as exposing others to offensive photographs.  Even sexual banter, pranks or remarks can be construed as sexual harassment if someone finds them offensive. 

    Because sexual harassment has become so widespread the OSHA has taken notice and classified it as a form of workplace violence because of the health and safety effects involved.  These can include a variety of physiological ailments for the victim ranging from headaches and stomach problems to increased risk of heart attack.  Victims also often find it difficult to focus on performing their tasks safely and correctly due to increased stress.  Also, when involved in a pattern of intimidation, victims often receive inadequate training and may even be reluctant to raise valid safety issues for fear of further ridicule.

    The best way to eliminate workplace sexual harassment is to create a workplace environment that discourages it.  Employers should make it clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.  To further discourage sexual harassment and to stop it quickly if it does occur, companies should establish a complaint process and always respond promptly and appropriately to such grievances.

    Tuesday
    Feb262019

    What Additional Living Expense Coverage Means to Homeowners

    Suffering major damage to a home is a traumatic event for any family. The experience brings shock, worry about family members and pets, grief at the loss of treasured possessions, and stress about the overwhelming task of replacing it all. Right on the heels of these emotions comes a more immediate question: Where will the family live now, and how will they pay for it? Fortunately, standard homeowner's policies provide coverage for loss of use of a home.

    The standard policy contains three Loss of Use coverages: Additional Living Expense, Fair Rental Value, and Civil Authority Prohibits Use. Additional Living Expense coverage pays for the homeowner’s necessary increase in living expenses when the home, damaged by a covered cause of loss, becomes unfit to live in. For example, assume that a severe windstorm knocks a tree into a home’s upstairs. It wrecks three bedrooms and two bathrooms, causing pipes to break and damaging electrical wiring. Since the policy covers windstorm damage and the home is unsafe for the family to occupy, this coverage will pay the extra amount the family must spend to live elsewhere for a period of time. However, the insurance company will pay only the amount necessary for the family to maintain its normal standard of living. If the family was not living in a luxury condo before the loss, the company will not pay for them to live in one after. The company will pay for the shortest period of time necessary to repair or replace the damaged property or to permanently relocate.

    It is important to note that the insurance pays only for the increase in costs, less any costs that decrease. If the family had a mortgage payment of $1,000 per month, the rent for a temporary home is $1,200, and utility costs are $50 less, the insurance will pay $150 per month.

    Fair Rental Value coverage applies to homeowners who rent out part or all of the premises. Should a covered cause of loss damage the home and make it uninhabitable, the insurance will pay the rental value that the homeowner loses. Coverage lasts only for the shortest time necessary to repair or replace the premises, and the company will reduce the payments by the amounts of non-continuing expenses. For example, if the rental value was $1,000 per month but the cost of heat, electricity and water was $400, and all of these services ceased during the repair period, the insurance will pay the $600 difference.

    Recently, an airliner crashed into a neighborhood near Buffalo, New York. In addition to the tragic loss of lives, the crash destroyed one home while barely affecting the others on the street. However, law enforcement authorities required occupants of surrounding homes to evacuate for several days while recovery crews cleaned up the site. These families probably benefited from Civil Authority Prohibits Use coverage. This insurance pays for the increased cost of living elsewhere for up to two weeks when civil authorities prohibit the homeowner from using her residence because of direct damage to neighboring premises caused by a covered peril. Once again, the company will pay only the amount above non-continuing expenses and only the cost of maintaining the family’s normal living standard.

    The amount of insurance that applies to these coverages is normally some percentage (typically 30 percent) of the amount covering the home. For example, a policy covering a home for $200,000 would provide $60,000 coverage for the loss of use coverages combined. A professional insurance agent can answer questions about them. Plan ahead; it is always much better to find out how much coverage you have before the worst happens.

    Thursday
    Feb212019

    Should Your Business Be Concerned About Silica Lawsuits?

    In America, asbestos litigation has become a huge problem for both businesses and insurance carriers. According to a study released in May 2005 by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, more than 730,000 people filed claims for asbestos-related injuries from the early 1970s through 2002.

    The study also stated that the number of asbestos claims increased dramatically through the 1990s and into 2002 because of suits filed by people who are claiming non-cancerous injuries. These cases account for 90 percent of all new claims, adding to the large numbers of asbestos litigation brought by the cancer-stricken.

    In the midst of this there is a new threat that promises to be as big a player in the litigation arena as asbestos has been. That threat is silica.

    Silica is a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores. Overexposure to dust containing microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs. The scar tissue reduces the ability of the lungs to extract oxygen from the air. This condition is called silicosis, which is disabling, nonreversible and sometimes fatal.

    According to A Guide To Working Safely With Silica, published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), "Each year, more than 250 American workers die with silicosis. More than 1 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. There is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers and health professionals work together to reduce exposures."

    Working in a dusty area increases the possibility of your employees becoming exposed to silica as does working in certain occupations such as construction, mining, foundry work, glass manufacturing and stone cutting.  Despite the occupation, following some basic procedures can reduce silica exposure:

    ·                      Be sure that employees use the engineering controls you have installed to reduce silica dust levels, and make sure they are properly maintained.  Employees should report any malfunction immediately.

    ·                      Minimize dust by following good work practices, such as removing dust with a water hose or a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate filter rather than blowing it clean with compressed air. Wet sweeping is preferable to dry sweeping.

    ·                      Use less hazardous materials than crystalline silica for abrasive blasting.

    ·                      To reduce exposures below permissible levels, insist that employees wear and correctly use approved particulate respirators when engineering controls alone are not adequate.

    ·                      Remind employees that facial hair interferes with the respirator seal to the face, making most respirators ineffective.

    ·                      If you must sandblast, use type CE positive pressure abrasive blasting respirators.

    ·                      Participate in air monitoring, medical surveillance, and training programs.

    As important as it is to monitor silica exposure on the jobsite, it is just as important to monitor your employees to see if they are practicing good silica hygiene before, during and when they leave work. Train them to change into washable work clothes on site. If possible, provide them with a shower so that they can wash and change into clean clothing before leaving. Insist that they avoid eating, drinking, or using tobacco products in work areas where there is dust or other toxic materials.  Most importantly, they should wash their hands and face before eating or drinking.

    To further help you prevent silica exposure; OSHA has developed The Silica eTool. It includes current information that will assist businesses owners in identifying potential silica hazards by choosing correct sampling and analytical techniques, comparing monitoring results with acceptable exposure limits, and selecting appropriate control options. To download it, log on to http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/silica/index.html.

    Tuesday
    Feb192019

    Outta the Way! Understanding Move Over Laws

    You’re cruising down the highway when you suddenly see flashing red lights on the shoulder up ahead. What do you do? Stop your car? Speed up and drive quickly past the scene? Crane your neck as you drive past to get a better look? Or ignore the lights altogether and go along your merry way?

    None of the above. When you see a police car, ambulance or roadside assistance vehicle on the side of the road with its lights flashing, you should MOVE OVER.

    Every year, thousands of U.S. law enforcement officers and emergency responders are killed or injured on our nation’s highways. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, more than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed since 1997 after being struck by vehicles along our nation’s highways. In response to this tragic trend, most U.S. states have enacted laws to help ensure the safety of law enforcement officers and emergency responders.

    Move Over Laws 101

    These laws, fittingly named “Move Over” laws, require motorists to move away from emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road with their lights flashing.

    As of March 2009, 43 states had passed Move Over laws. However, only 29 states offer protection for drivers of tow trucks and other recovery vehicles.

    Although Move Over laws vary slightly from state to state, the basic details are pretty much the same. Generally, motorists are required to change lanes when possible to give safe clearance to law enforcement officers and emergency responders on the roadside. If motorists are unable to change lanes, they are required to slow down to at least 20 mph below the speed limit.

    A little-known law

    Unfortunately, most motorists are still unaware of these laws. Just 29 percent of Americans have heard of Move Over laws, according to a national poll by Mason Dixon Polling & Research, sponsored by the National Safety Commission.

    According to the same poll, 86 percent of those surveyed support enacting Move Over laws in all 50 states, and 90 percent believe traffic stops and roadside emergencies are dangerous for law enforcement officers and first responders. 

    In an effort to get the word out about life-saving Move Over laws, a coalition of traffic safety and law enforcement groups launched a nationwide public awareness campaign. Known as “Move Over, America,” the partnership was founded in 2007 by the National Safety Commission, the National Sheriff’s Association and the National Association of Police Organizations. The coalition was recently joined by the American Association of State Troopers.

    Common questions

    Here are answers to motorists’ frequently asked questions about Move Over laws:

    If I see an emergency vehicle on the side of the highway with its lights flashing, should I immediately switch lanes?

    No, the first thing you should do is slow down so that you can figure out your next move. If you’re on a multi-lane highway, change lanes as soon as it’s safe to do so. Move over so that there is at least one empty lane between you and the emergency vehicle on the roadside.

    What if I can’t switch lanes soon enough or if I’m on a two-lane road? Should I stop my car?

    No, do not stop your car unless you are directed to do so by a law enforcement officer or another emergency responder directing traffic. If you stop, you will block the flow of traffic, which could result in an accident. If you cannot switch lanes due to traffic or if you are on a two-lane road, simply slow down to at least 20 mph below the speed limit before you pass the emergency vehicle.

    How can I prevent having a wreck myself while trying to move over from emergency vehicles?

    When you spot an emergency vehicle with lights flashing on the roadside up ahead, the most important thing to do is keep your eyes open and stay alert. Scan the roadway ahead of you and stay aware of vehicles around you. This will allow you to anticipate potential problems and assess the situation so that you can react quickly and safely.

     

    Whether or not your state has enacted Move Over laws, all motorists should do the responsible thing and follow these general safety rules. After all, it could mean the difference between life and death for an emergency responder or law enforcement officer.

    Thursday
    Feb142019

    Protect Your Company from Identity Theft Liability

    If your business does not properly dispose of personal information from customers or employees you could be fined, sued or involved in a costly class action lawsuit.  Effective June 1, 2005, the new strict information Disposal Rule changed the way nearly every business in the United States must handle sensitive personal information. 

    Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America.  The Federal government has recognized that improper disposal of sensitive information is a key cause of identity theft and is firm in its commitment to prevent identity thieves from obtaining personal information. 

    The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act is an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The new Disposal Rule portion of the law requires companies to properly dispose of all paper or electronic personal data by reasonable measures such as shredding or burning for paper records.  Third party companies that specialize in proper information disposal can be contracted to handle this responsibility.

    If you do not comply with the new Disposal Rule, your company could be subject to civil liability for actual or statutory damages as a result of your inaction leading to the identity theft; class action lawsuits, if a large number of employees or customers are involved; and federal fines of up to $2,500 for each violation, and state fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

    When implementing information disposal practices, consider the following:

    - Have a valid reason for requesting the information that you gather.

    - Acquire data in a private manner that cannot be seen or overheard.

    - Install effective security on systems that store personal data.

    - Make sure that sensitive data is treated as highly classified and is access controlled.

    - Make all paper and electronic documents unreadable before disposing of them.

    - Train all personnel in proper procedures for identifying, handling and disposing of personal information.

    - Consider conducting background checks on all employees with access to identifying information including mailroom staff, clean-up crews, customer service technicians and temporary workers.

    - For your protection in case of a lawsuit, formalize your information disposal program including maintaining detailed documentation of each security measure you establish.


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