Protecting Against Slips, Trips and Falls During Winter

While slip, trip and fall hazards are present year-round, there is an increased potential for them in the winter months due to snow and ice.

As a property owner or manager, you must make a reasonable effort to reduce the potential for injury to your guests, employees and patrons. Any business that has people visiting its facility (e.g., hotels, apartments, manufacturing firms, shopping centers, supermarkets, office complexes) can be susceptible to this hazard and the associated liabilities.

The first line of defense against slip, trip and fall incidents includes having a well-planned strategy and implementing a snow and ice removal plan.

1) Develop and implement a written snow and ice removal plan.

  • Determine who is responsible for carrying out the plan. They should be responsible for duties such as selecting contractors, maintaining removal logs, frequency of removal, use of sand/salt, and proper claim handling practices.

2) Determine if the snow and ice removal will be carried out by in-house personnel or by an outside contractor.

  • Due to the standby nature of snow removal, an outside contractor may prove the better option. Outside contractors should be selected on their expertise, response times and capabilities. Make sure invoices include details of services rendered.
  • Be sure to verify proper liability insurance coverage of any contractor. Obtain and review certificates and contracts annually, and there should be a cancellation of liability insurance notice requirement in the contract.
  • If your employees perform the snow removal work, provide the right training and equipment, such as insulated boots, gloves and jackets and snow removal equipment.

3) Designate someone to monitor weather conditions, walking surfaces and effectiveness of removal practices.

4) Record removal activities in a log.

  • Information should include the individual’s name, estimated amounts of snowfall, ice buildup, temperature, action taken (e.g., called contractor, used plow, applied sand/salt), date and times, inspection notes and unusual conditions.

5) Perform incident investigations promptly.

6) Putting the plan into action.

  • When determining areas to target first, be mindful of high-risk areas such as high-traffic areas, slopes, and dimly lit or uneven surfaces.
  • Consider the type of treatment for given conditions. Calcium chloride is very effective in extreme cold. Allow sufficient time (if possible) for chemical treatments to take full effect.
  • Ice melt products can leave entrance floors slippery; be prepared to clean up any moisture that is tracked in.
  • When stockpiling snow, be careful as this can reduce visibility around corners.
  • Provide warning signs in high-hazard places and provide adequate lighting where possible.
  • Be aware of refreezing. Melting snow piles adjacent to a walkway can result in refreezing of water on the walkway.
  • Review drainage and puddle formation and ensure that it doesn’t discharge in frequent foot traffic areas.
  • Consider engineering controls such as heated walking surfaces when practical.
  • Relocate downspouts if they discharge water onto walking surfaces.
  • Provide warnings of “hidden” hazards that could be inadvertently struck by cars or trip pedestrians if covered by snow (signs, fire hydrants, curbs, grates, etc.).

7) Jurisdictional considerations.

  • Each municipality has its own ordinances or codes dealing with snow and ice removal. Property owners should know the requirements of the municipality in which they own and manage property. Consulting an attorney and municipal authorities can help you better understand your rights and obligations and make the appropriate decisions to protect your customers, employees, business and the public.

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Ice Dam Cometh?

I have a weird fascination with icicles. During the winter, I like to travel around certain neighborhoods and scope out the size of icicles hanging off of houses. While they can appear to be “beautiful,” I recently learned how truly ugly they can be. Not only are icicles a sign of inadequate attic insulation, it could be a start of a serious problem — ice dams.

What is an ice dam?  According to the University of Minnesota, “an ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow from draining off the roof.”  That water will back up behind the ridge and can leak into the home, damaging walls, ceilings and insulation.

What causes an ice dam?  That same article from the University of Minnesota contains a very detailed diagram as to how an ice dam can form. Here a simplified diagram I created that illustrates what happens.

First the house must have snow on the roof and the temperature of the upper part of the roof must be above 32 degrees for an extended period of time (a result of heat loss in the home), and the lower portion of the roof must be below 32 degrees for an extended period of time because of the temperature outside. The snow on the roof melts and gets trapped behind an ice dam that formed on the overhang, possibly involving a frozen gutter. The trapped water has nowhere to go except through your roof and into your home.

How do you prevent an ice dam?

The best way to deal with ice dams is to prevent them. A short term solution is to rake the snow off of your roof, so there’s nothing that will freeze into a dam and nothing that can melt. A long term solution is to make sure your ceiling and attic spaces are airtight, well insulated and cool. That will prevent heat loss in your home and help maintain uniform temperatures on your roof.

I received my ice dam and insulation education a couple of months ago when we had an energy audit and insulation upgrade in our house. Every year, we had some spectacular icicles above our kitchen, heater and dryer vents. We finally decided that we had to do something about it. Not only was our attic space leakier than a balloon with a hole in it, the little insulation that was there was completely inadequate. After having the work done, we noticed that our home felt warmer within one day. And those icicles that always appeared off the back of our house have vanished.

Winter’s not over yet and in some parts of the country, it has just begun. Consider speaking with a contractor to make sure the insulation is sufficient in your home for the icy months that may come.

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Snow Shoveling Tips, Tools, and Techniques

Snow shoveling can be a laborious but inevitable winter chore. Between the snow and ice storms in the colder regions of the U.S., the responsibility to clear your sidewalk, driveway, and various other paths are on the to-do list. Shoveling may seem like a no-brainer, but many people don’t complete the task as effectively or as safely as they should to reduce the risk of injury! Take a look at the top three things to keep in mind when shoveling to keep paths clear and your body pain-free this winter!

What kind of shovel should I use?

  • High-strength, plastic shovels are light and easy to use, so if you have snow piling up, this kind of shovel would do the job well. However, constant scraping against sidewalks and driveways can wear out the material, and they are not particularly effective when ice is on the ground.
  • Metal shovels are heavier and more difficult to maneuver, but if you are dealing with both snow and ice, this might be a good way for you to go. These shovels will save you a lot of time if you need to chip ice while shoveling, and have amazing durability when chosen properly.
  • Either way, make sure the shovel has a long, curved handle to reduce risk of spinal stress. Back injuries, fractures, and heart problems related to snow shoveling cause more than 11,000 adults and children to the hospital every year1 — you don’t want to be a part of that statistic!

How should I prepare my body to help ensure comfort and safety?

  • Stretch your arm and leg muscles to help prevent injury from strain.
  • Dress in warm, thick layers (and don’t forget a hat!)
  • Wear boots that provide proper traction to avoid slipping.
  • Stay hydrated — grab some water every 15 minutes or so.

What form should I have when shoveling snow?

  • Push, don’t lift! Snow can be surprisingly heavy, especially when wet. If you only have a few inches of snow on the ground, pushing instead of lifting it will relieve strain on your back, shoulders, and neck.
  • Do not throw snow over your back
  • Squat by bending your knees rather than your back.
  • Remove the snow by layer. Rather than scooping one foot of snow, skim the top few inches and toss in front of you, then continue to skim until you can push the last few inches to the end of your driveway/sidewalk/etc.

First and foremost, make sure that you keep yourself safe this winter. If you have any more questions, please comment below.

  1. Source: http://www.webmd.com/news/20110120/snow-shoveling-injures-thousands-each-year

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Distracted Driving: It’s Not Just About Cell Phones and Texting

Talking and texting on cell phones are the most frequently talked about concerns involving accidents and distracted driving, with texting now taking the lead over concerns about drivers who talk on their cell phones while operating a vehicle.

Among the concerns that cell phone use raises is that drivers often become so focused on the conversation they’re having that it distracts them from attention to the road. Several research studies have found that even intense listening on a cell phone can impair driver attention on the road. Cell phone use, even with a hands-free device, can create a situation where drivers develop a potentially lethal form of tunnel vision that creates what researchers called inattention blindness.

Researchers found that inattention blindness slows driver reaction time by 20 percent and that some tests subjects missed half the red lights they encountered in simulated driving.

They reported that the research subjects took in a reduced amount of information while on the phone. They missed things like swerving cars and sudden lane changes, which resulted in several simulated rear-end collisions.

Texting Takes Over As Bad Driver Behavior

Texting on cell phones is now considered an even more serious problem than talking on a cell phone, because it requires looking down at the message the sender is creating while moving fingers that should be on the steering wheel. In addition to not looking where they are going, text message senders are usually focused on their message—not on their driving. Experts tell us that taking your eyes off the road for even one to two seconds can make the difference between avoiding a crash and causing one.

Texting is a particularly serious concern because while 20 percent of drivers admit to texting, when you look at drivers in the age 18-24 year old category, 66 percent are sending or receiving text messages while driving. Add the distraction of text messaging to young driver inexperience and you’ve got a particularly lethal combination.

Currently only a few states outlaw texting while driving, fewer than those that prohibit talking on cell phones when driving, but more states are looking at making it illegal in the wake of a series of spectacular crashes with deadly results.

There’s no doubt having a cell phone with you when you travel is a great resource to use in calling for help or reporting trouble on the road. But whether you use a handhe phone or a hands free device, researchers and safety specialists agree that the only really safe way to use your phone—whether to call or to text message—is to safely pull off the road, stop and then make your call.

Your safety is number one to us. Stay safe wherever you choose to go on the road.

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Winter Auto Safety Checklist

Slipping and sliding can have either very positive or very negative connotations depending on the time of year. During the summer, it can sound like a fun afternoon’s activity! But during the winter, the term has a whole new meaning, especially when you have to drive. Those icy and snow-filled roads can take a toll on your car and make driving even more dangerous. Check out these tips to help keep you and your car in the best shape possible for the winter to come!

  • Make sure your antifreeze reservoir is full

    This chemical makes the freezing point of your car much lower and will protect your radiator from freezing throughout the night. You can either open the cap on the radiator or simply check the ‘full’ line on the side of the reservoir to ensure you have enough the last through the winter.

  • Test defroster

    This handy tool can sometimes stop working at the most inopportune times. Check both front and rear defrosters to make sure all fog and crystallized ice can just melt away at the click of a button. Generally, if your air conditioning or heating is working, your defroster will be working as well, but if your defroster does not work, check out this article to learn how to fix it.

  • Check tire pressure

    If you are a part of the 19% of people that properly check and inflate their tires, good for you! But for those of you that do not, Foremost® strongly suggests that you check your tire pressure before the snow hits this winter. Why? Tell us what happens if you drive with low tire pressure.

  • Check tire tread

    Every year, an estimated 90 people die and 3,200 receive injuries in crashes influenced by tire aging! Use the penny test to check treads — if you can see Lincoln’s head, get new tires! If not, you’re good to go.

  • Maintain a healthy battery

    Maintain a healthy auto battery to make sure you don’t end up having to jump start your car in below-freezing temperatures. Make sure headlights, passenger lights, and GPS/phone charger power sockets are all turned off before exiting your vehicle.

  • Keep fuel levels high

    If you like to live on the edge when it comes to your fuel-tank levels, you may want to try otherwise this winter. Condensation can form in the empty part of your gas tank, which then freezes in winter’s cold temperatures and keeps your car from starting. The best way to avoid a frozen tank is to keep your fuel levels at least half full during the winter.

You should also check for:

  • Window wiper efficiency
  • Blue washer fluid
  • Ignition lights
  • Oil

Don’t forget to keep a warm blanket in your trunk, and of course, if you feel that conditions are too dangerous to drive, consider staying where you are and waiting it out!

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Don’t be a Deer in the Headlights

Just picture it — you’re driving on a winding road blasting some music, enjoying your time with family and friends, when something pops out in front of you. Do you brake? Do you try to swerve around the thing? Animals seem to have other things on their mind near the roads, and can often jump out at us while we drive, which can cause major safety issues. These moments need a quick response but it can be challenging to think through what to do and then do it on the fly. That’s why we’re providing some guidelines to help prevent a collision between your car and an animal during this season!

  • Fasten your seatbelt

    While this will not help you avoid hitting an animal, it is the best way to help ensure safety for you and the passengers in your car. Buckle up during every auto trip!

  • Pay attention to animal-crossing signs

    These yellow, diamond-shaped signs on the side of the road with an animal picture on them (deer, moose, bear) warn you about areas where the pictured animal is known to cross the road.

  • Use your high beams

    Use your high beams whenever possible (as long as there is not oncoming traffic) during this time of the year. The extra light does a great job of revealing your surroundings, and is especially good at lighting up animal eyes along the side of the road, where deer and other wildlife are most likely to congregate.

  • Honk your horn in short bursts (for deer)

    If you are in an environment with a high likelihood for deer crossings, honk your horn in short spurts throughout the drive to scare away any deer that may have been near the road. However, honking your horn too much may confuse the deer and lead them closer to the road, so make sure you are rationing out those honks throughout the trip.

  • Be especially alert at dawn and dusk

    Animals are most likely to be roaming at dawn and dusk, so stay especially alert during these times to avoid collision.

  • If a deer appears on the road…

    • Never swerve!

      Don’t do it. The instinctual action of swerving can actually cause more harm than good because you may swerve into the other lane with oncoming traffic, a tree, a fence, or road sign, which can increase your chance of injury.

    • Drive towards where the animal came from

      Roaming wildlife are most likely to either stand where they are discovered in fear or will run onward in the continual direction from whence they came. If you feel you can safely maneuver your car, your best option to miss the animal is to drive towards the direction where the animal came from (this will not work for deer).

    • Brake firmly

      Unless there is a car directly behind you, brake firmly and safely slow your vehicle. If there is a car close by, slow down, but make sure to honk your horn to signal to the other driver that there is a problem ahead. By the way, Mythbusters busted the myth that speeding up will decrease your chances of injury — so don’t do that!

    • Lean towards a door pillar

      In the event of an unavoidable crash, leaning towards a door pillar will give an extra layer of protection between you and the approaching impact. In most instances of a severe collision between man and animal, the center of the car is crushed, so lean towards the door pillar to benefit from the added protection of the pillar.

    Under every circumstance, you should also always make sure you are driving at a safe speed — those speed limits are more than a suggestion! Following the posted speed for a specific stretch of road gives you the benefit of being under control regardless of twists and turns and unexpected visitors!

    deer-crossing

Are Snow Tires Right for Your Vehicle?

Around this time every year, my husband makes some sort of comment about snow tires. He usually brings it up when we’re talking about my concern for the road conditions.

We’ve never used snow tires before, but that doesn’t stop my husband from extolling their virtues. I, on the other hand, think all-season tires work just fine, provided they have good tread.

In this great and recurring snow tire versus all-season tire debate, I turn to Popular Mechanics for their tests and opinions.

What makes snow tires different than all-season tires?

The main differences between these tires are the composition of the rubber compound and depth and direction of the tread. Snow tires are made of a rubber that stays flexible in cold temperatures. The deep grooved tread is patterned in a single direction to cut through snow and slush, and many small cut variations help the tire grip slick surfaces.

All-season tires are composed of a harder rubber and have longer tread wear life. The tread is cut into channels to provide better grip on dry surfaces and prevent hydroplaning.

So what’s better?

It really depends on what you value. Do you want superior performance in snowy and icy conditions? Then Popular Mechanics’ tests prove that winter tires are the way to go. From braking and acceleration to handling and hill climbs, snow tires proved their worth over and over.

Or if you prefer the convenience of not swapping tires (and even wheels) every year, then all-season tires might be what you want to purchase. All-season tires performed well in less than ideal conditions, just not as well as snow tires.

What if I don’t live in a cold weather climate?

If snow is a foreign concept where you live, then summer tires, or three-season tires, are probably the choice for you. All-season tires are really a compromise, meaning they provide adequate performance in all seasons, not superior performance in a single season. Summer tires are a better choice if you never see snow.

Next steps

If you need new tires, or are reassessing the rubber on your vehicle, it’s best that you do some in-depth research. There are a lot of tire options out there. Read reviews. Talk to specialists about what tires are best suited for your situation, because the right type of tires can really make your car excel on the road. Superior handling and performance can help ensure safe travels.

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Driving on Black Ice

Although snow can make winter driving difficult, it’s not the real threat. Icy roads are one of the top causes of car accidents in the United States, and cause hundreds of deaths each year. It’s easy to lose control of your car when the roads are icy, and is difficult to gain control again. There aren’t any fool-proof ways to avoid black ice, but you can certainly protect yourself by understanding and knowing how to deal with this seasonal issue!

  • Know where to expect black ice

    Black ice is generally formed when a light rain or drizzle falls on a road surface that is below freezing, and is most common at night or in the early morning when temperatures are at their lowest. Maine’s Bureau of General Services suggests to watch out for bridges and underpasses, road areas shaded by the sun, or low-lying areas that may have standing water or run off from nearby melting snow banks.

  • Look for black ice (when you can)

    If lighting conditions are right, a driver might be able to spot ice on the road. If the majority of the road you are driving on appears to be a dull color except for one section that appears to be shiny, odds are, the glossy area is ice. Keeping headlights on might help provide that visible shine.

  • Check your tire tread

    Use the penny test to check treads — if you can see Lincoln’s head, get new tires! If not, you’re good to go. For more car preparation tips like this one, follow our blog to the Winter Auto Safety Checklist.

Here are some tips to help you regain control of your car if you’re sliding on black ice:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Don’t make sudden movements, you would only lose more control.
  3. Do not hit the brakes.
  4. Try to keep the steering wheel straight.
  5. If you feel your car sliding right or left, make a gentle turn in the SAME direction you feel you’re going.
  6. De-accelerate slowly by lifting your foot from the gas pedal.
  7. If you can, shift into a lower gear.
  8. If you still cannot gain control of your car, try to steer into an area with low impact like a snowbank or empty field.
  9. Find a safe location to park your vehicle as soon as possible.

Hopefully you now feel better prepared to brave the winter ahead!

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Preparing Your Home for the Holidays

Garland, ribbons and candles come to mind when thinking about prepping your home for the holidays. While I would love to talk about how I attempt to decorate my home like a magazine, this article is not about what will look best on your front door or how to set your table perfectly for the holidays. That’s what Pinterest is for! Working for an insurance company has made me aware of the importance of prevention. Unfortunately, in our line of business we see and hear about disasters and mishaps over the holidays that cost policyholders damage, money and stress.

So as an ode to the season of giving, I’m going to give you 5 tips of what NOT to do when prepping your home for the holidays.

In preparing your home for the holidays DO NOT:

  • Combine dry garland and candles. This is a cry for disaster. I’ve actually witnessed a mantle go up in flames at a holiday party because of this combination. The beautiful candles gave off a crackling glow of light all evening and the garland surrounding it was a lovely sight, until all the party guests were throwing their drinks toward the fire that was slowly rising up the tall wall. Trust me. It’s a good idea to stick with the new flameless candles.
  • Overload electrical outlets. Stick with no more than three strands of lights and be sure to use approved and lab-tested. And although it can be hard to get rid of those “vintage” bulbs you’ve cherished since you were a child, don’t use any wiring that’s cracked, bare, rusted or is worn and torn. Splurge for some new bulbs.
  • Leave your driveway slippery for guests. If you’re having company over, be sure to clear any snow and salt the walkways that will welcome them. You don’t want to take Aunt Betty to the emergency room when you should be making memories.
  • Leave your cooking unattended. Chances are if you’re having people over, you might be using your kitchen more than normal. Don’t forget to keep towels, papers, pot holders and other items that could catch fire, away from the stove. Be sure to keep an eye on what you’re cooking, and if you have little ones in your house, make sure you supervise them as well.
  • Ignore your smoke alarms. Check the batteries and test each smoke alarm to make sure they’re working. Smoke alarms save lives and can provide for an excellent turkey timer, as they have in my household.

Enjoy making your house beautiful for the holidays and don’t ignore the importance of prevention and awareness. Happy holidays from all of us at Advantage Insurance Agency!

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