Advantages of Home Automation Systems

Although many people have heard the term home automation, few understand what it is. Automating a home involves multiple installations of modern devices that control various functions. While most people feel that something should not be fixed unless it is broken, it is best to keep in mind that this is just a beneficial enhancement. Automating a home results in several advantages, which are included in the following points.

1. It saves money on utilities. These expenses may add up to amounts well over $100 or even $300 each month. A home automation system turns off lights automatically, optimizes thermostat settings continuously and contributes to a reduction in the utility bill. The reduction is usually between 10 and 25 percent.

2. It makes many tasks more efficient. Some tasks are repetitive. For example, a routine of turning off five specific lights before watching television would normally consist of five separate tasks. With the push of one button, a home automation system can turn off a designated set of lights.

3. It is good for the environment. For very good reasons, society is pushing toward environmental awareness. Home automation is the perfect solution for preserving natural resources by reducing power consumption.

4. It provides home security features. While home security is an issue on the minds of most people, many cannot afford the costly installation or monthly monitoring fees. Home automation systems provide a much more affordable solution for security. However, they also have many other beneficial features that other home security systems lack.

5. It decreases safety risks. Poor lighting is one of the main causes of accidents in the home. For example, a person trying to climb the stairs while fumbling for a light switch is likely to fall. Automation systems turn lights on and off in stairways as people approach or leave them. Since appliances, lights and electrical devices are shut off automatically, the risk of a fire starting is lower.

6. It provides peace of mind. Although this is not a physical feature of a home automation system, it is one of the most important advantages. Peace of mind reduces worries and stress. Homeowners who have surveillance cameras installed and connected to the Internet can also monitor activity remotely. This provides an easy way to see what kids are doing when they are home. Kids’ activities on the computer can also be restricted with a home automation system.

7. It is something that benefits the entire family. As families learn about their system’s functions and capabilities, they have a chance to enjoy time together. It also provides a way for kids to learn more about technology.

Home automation systems may also have other advantages that are specific to certain individuals. For example, pet owners enjoy being able to see what their furry friends are doing while they are away. Parents with small children can monitor babysitters or nannies to ensure they are treating the kids well. To learn more about these advantageous systems, discuss the options with an agent.

Pull Out All the Stops – Prevent Electrical Shock in the Workplace

Approximately 700 deaths a year are caused by electrocution, according to the National Safety Council.  This is alarming considering that most of these deaths are easily preventable.  Employers should be aware of this and take steps to implement an overall electrical safety plan that will guard against future accidents of this kind.  OSHA maintains standards that dictate minimum compliance requirements.  This can be the first step in ensuring that the workplace is governed by firm safety rules, but also reinforced through training and monitored on a regular basis.  A safe workplace should also be in compliance with the National Electrical Code (NEC) and National Electrical Safety Code (NESC).

When training employees provide documentation detailing specific safety guidelines that employees need to follow.  Training should include instruction in basic electrical theory, safe work procedures, identification of potential hazards and proper lockout/tagout procedures.  Employees should also receive training in First Aid and CPR. 

It is essential to protect workers who work near electrical power circuits.  Many employers and workers are unaware that even a small amount of current is enough to prove fatal.  Circuits should be deactivated prior to working on or around them.  If this is not possible other measures, such as insulating tools and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be followed.

When starting a new project it is essential to identify potential electrical hazards and plan accordingly to ensure employee safety.  OSHA identifies electrical shock as one of the four major hazards in construction.

The most frequent causes of electrical injuries according to OSHA are:

  • Failure to de-energize electric circuits and equipment before working on them
  • Contact with power lines
  • Lack of ground-fault protection
  • Path to ground missing or discontinuous
  • Equipment not used in manner prescribed
  • Improper use of extension and flexible cords

In addition to training and protection, periodic inspection of electrical equipment will help prevent injuries.  Equipment that produces shock, or wires showing visible signs of wear should be removed and either repaired or replaced immediately.

Take step to ensure electrical safety before an accident occurs.  Prevention is the key to saving lives.

Sarbanes Oxley – Making the Corporate Jungle Safer?

Depending on whom you talk to, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was either a panacea to cure the ailing stock market and restore trust in Corporate America or a shot to the bow of America’s capitalist vision.  Just what is Sarbanes-Oxley and whom does it affect?

Sarbanes-Oxley is a complex patchwork of legislative reform of the American system of corporate governance, legal counsel and financial oversight of publicly traded companies. 

Among the key implications of the Act:

—      CEOs and CFOs must certify the financial reports of their companies and face stiffer penalties for knowing or willful violations, including personal liability for noncompliance.

—      Added disclosures are required on the company financials.

—      The SEC must adopt new rules requiring that independent audit committees be created that are authorized to engage advisors.

—      New criminal and civil penalties for directors and officers for, among other things, destroying or changing records and knowingly executing a scheme to defraud investors.

—      Takes away some of the self-policing capability of the accounting industry by creating a five member Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which is overseen by the Securities Exchange Commission.

—      Similar to the effect on the accounting profession, the legal profession is hit with new regulations, some of which run counter to the self-policing activities of the state bars and presents lawyers with the conundrum of trying to comply with the law while retaining a main cornerstone of the legal profession – attorney client privilege.


Some say Sarbanes-Oxley has had a chilling effect on the American Dream.  Where the rallying cry of the ’90’s was “Go public!,” Sarbanes-Oxley might have turned that into “Go private!” for the future, particularly for the small public companies for whom the new regulations create a cash drain.   But, despite the lure of going private, some insurance industry and legal experts theorize that Sarbanes-Oxley’s effect on public company accounting will put a new onus on private companies as well.  They recommend that private companies follow some of the same rules on a voluntary basis to avoid potential common law negligence. 

Sarbanes-Oxley’s exacting standards have had a dramatic impact on the Directors and Officers Insurance market, which was already reeling from the effects of corporate scandals, and the shrinking of capital in the reinsurance marketplace that was sharpened by the effects of 9/11.  Rates have gone up dramatically and capacity has shrunk, leaving some companies underinsured when they need it most. 

Accountants, particularly CPAs that do public audit work, have felt similar effects.  Fewer companies today are willing to write Accountants Professional Liability for such firms.  The same goes for law firms that specialize in securities law.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspects of Sarbanes-Oxley, at least for corporate officers, are the punitive provisions for knowingly or willfully committing “white-collar” crimes.   The problem with discerning the effects of these provisions is the difficulty in assessing culpability.   It is possible that fingers might point at parties, who should have known what was going on during their watch, but did not “knowingly” or “willfully” perpetrate a fraud.  The line between benign incompetence and intentional acts might be blurry at times, but directors and officers still face the risk of being caught in the maelstrom of public outrage.   

The best advice that anyone can be given, who is entertaining the notion of becoming a board member of a public corporation, is think twice.  Make sure you know that the company has adequate D & O Insurance with a reputable carrier, and the coverage provides defense against fraud allegations until guilt is proven (in many cases the insurer will settle out of court before guilt becomes a factor in coverage determination).  Moreover, make sure that the limits are adequate for the size of the company.  Although there is no one rule of thumb for adequate limits, most public companies should have at least $25 million in coverage to afford adequate protection. The Microsoft’s and IBM’s of the world should obviously carry much more. 

Private companies can purchase D & O Insurance too, often at more reasonable prices, and with a host of other pertinent coverages such as Employment Practices Liability, Kidnap & Ransom, Fiduciary Liability and sometimes-even Professional Liability comprised under one insurance program.   Whether you purchase on a package basis or a la carte, if you have not looked into D & O Insurance before, now may be the right time.  

Don’t Let Driving Emergencies Take You by Surprise

There are two golden rules to remember when driving – expect the unexpected and be ready for anything. Many agencies, such as the National Safety Council, have compiled listings of the most common road emergencies and the ways that drivers can best handle them safely. Let’s look at six of them:

1. Blown Tire

Don’t over-steer, but do maintain a firm, steady grip on the wheel to keep the vehicle going in the desired direction until you’re able to slow it down. Keep in mind that a front blown tire will cause the vehicle to pull toward the blowout’s side, while a rear blown tire will cause the vehicle’s rear end to weave. Apply your brakes smoothly and slowly enough that you can pull the car to the side of the road at a safe speed. Never immediately swerve to the side of the road or jam on the brakes as you could lose control.

2. Blown / Malfunctioning Headlights

Slowly brake and come to a stop on the right shoulder. Try to get as far away from passing traffic as possible. Turn on your emergency flashers, if they’re still operational, and place road hazard markers or flares at least 300 feet from the rear of your vehicle. If you don’t have a cell phone to call for roadside assistance, then you can open the hood and try to scrape the battery cable’s lead terminal posts and the inside of connector lugs. This may provide a better connection and enough intermittent light to make it to a phone. As a last resort, you could use your emergency flashers as an intermittent light source if they’re on a separate circuit.

3. Skidding Vehicle

Remove your foot from the gas. Steer into the direction of the skid until you feel your rear wheels get traction again. Now, straighten the wheel. Never jam on the brakes or over-steer during the skid. To avoid skidding to one side when you need to come to a sudden stop, you can rapidly jam and immediately release the brakes. For those with anti-lock brakes, keep your foot on the brake and continue firm pressure while steering.

4. Engine Failure

Turn your right signal on and let the vehicle’s momentum carry you to the shoulder. If this isn’t a possibility, then remain in your lane or along the right side. Pump your brakes and turn your emergency flashers on to let other drivers know you’re in trouble. Once you’ve come to a stop, you’ll ideally exit the vehicle on the side without traffic flow. You can alert other vehicles by placing reflectors or flares; keeping your taillights on; and placing a white cloth around your handle, spoiler, or antenna. Use your cell phone to call for help or flag down a law officer. There may be an emergency call box on long bridges.

5. Stuck Accelerator

Turn off the ignition and apply the brakes. Keep in mind that your power assist feature will no longer work and braking and steering will be more difficult. Never lean down to handle the gas pedal, but you can try to lift the pedal with your toe if the pedal and throttle linkage have a positive connection.

6. Brake Failure

If your brakes still functioning properly, but you have a system light indicating a brake failure, then you should slowly take the most level route to a service station or mechanic shop.

If your breaks don’t feel normal, but are still offering some resistance, then pump them rapidly. This action could build enough hydraulic pressure to slow your vehicle down. You might be lucky enough to have a clear road and be able to coast to a stop or roll and apply your parking brake. Use your horn and flash your lights to alert pedestrians and other vehicles. You might need to carefully sideswipe hedges, snow banks, parked cars, and/or guardrails to help your vehicle stop if your on a downward, steep roadway. Never swerve to the left of a vehicle in your path unless it’s your only choice. If you’re headed straight for another vehicle, firmly press the brakes; head for a shoulder, ditch, or open ground on the right side; and try to alert others with your horn.

Driving emergencies are hard to think through as they’re happening. For the best outcome possible, you’ll need to know what the potential emergencies are, know how to safely deal with them ahead of time, and make the subjects part of your family’s safety discussions.

Safety Incentive Programs -Do They Really Work?

The practice of rewarding or paying employees for not having workplace accidents is controversial.  With hopes of reducing costly workers’ compensation claims and improving the safety culture of their organization, companies are increasingly implementing safety incentive programs.

Professionals who support safety incentives believe they can be a healthy component of an existing safety program, to build interest in working safely, and thus reduce workplace accidents.  They find it a valuable tool to show employees that they care about their workers’ safety and believe that it can have lasting effects and improve morale.  They also see that it dissuades exaggerated or false injury claims.

Those who discourage companies from implementing safety incentive programs often believe they are no more than a form of bribery.  Because incentive programs do not involve a core change in existing procedures or conditions, this group fears they can actually create a negative safety culture that promotes underreporting of accidents.   They feel they reward the wrong behavior because accidents are usually not intentional acts and do not only involve improper actions.  Usually it is unsafe conditions and inadequate procedures that contribute to causes of accidents.

Even proponents see that a safety incentive program by itself does not constitute a corporate safety program.  Employees cannot improve their safety record if they do not already have the training to know how to manage hazards and work safely. 

When a company’s safety program is not already functioning and effective, adding a safety incentive program could promote the underreporting of accidents as employees pursue rewards and, in group incentive scenarios, avoid being the reason why their fellow employees don’t receive their rewards.

To be effective, a corporation’s safety incentive program must be thoughtfully developed, launched and maintained.  Generally these programs fail because of inadequate commitment from management level staff or poor program administration.  What is most important when considering an incentive program is that the company’s existing program is strong and effective, that upper management is active in all stages of the program in a way that is visible to employees, that the program is well structured with goals and rewards tailored to the workforce and that communication about the program to employees is ongoing.

Homeowners Insurance & Lawsuits

It is common for neighbors to disagree. For example, one person may think that their outdoor dog barking at people passing by is an asset for keeping them safer from intruders. However, a neighbor who enjoys peace and quiet would think the dog is a nuisance. Another neighbor may enjoy listening to his or her music at a loud volume, but others who live in the neighborhood will likely find it annoying. Some situations may not be about noise. People who live in neighborhoods with a uniform appearance may hassle a new homeowner who decides to paint his or her house a clashing color. Whether the source of the problem is noise or something else, disagreements between neighbors can escalate into lawsuits. Before this happens, it is important to know what types of provisions a homeowners policy provides for legal issues.

Many people think that a homeowners insurance policy covers most types of lawsuits filed against them. For this reason, people are usually not as careful as they should be about preventing them. For example, consider a new homeowner who moves into a subdivision, replaces the existing fence with higher boards and paints them contrasting colors. If the subdivision has rules about the permissible colors and acceptable maximum height of fences, they will try to get the new homeowner to comply. Homeowners who refuse may find themselves facing a lawsuit for violating the subdivision’s code. The courts will likely favor the subdivision’s rules, and a homeowners policy will not provide coverage for the legal battle. Therefore, it is important to understand exactly what legal issues are covered under the policy.

Loud noises, eyesores and changes are all issues that do not physically harm another person. While they may be annoying, they are not issues that would be covered by a homeowners policy if they escalate into a lawsuit. Always remember that a homeowners policy offers protection for two types of liabilities, which are property damage and bodily injury. If the family dog bites someone on the property, a guest falls off a broken step or one of the kids breaks a visitor’s car window, a homeowners policy covers such issues.

Since coverage is limited to two types of physical damage, it is important to work as hard as possible to settle disputes with neighbors. For example, if neighbors complain about a barking dog, it may be best to enroll the dog in training or purchase a no-bark citronella collar. Trim overgrown shrubs or trees that neighbors may complain about. Many people get angry and frustrated when a neighbor makes accusations or complains. Anger is usually what causes people to be stubborn and refuse to compromise. Always listen to what neighbors have to say, and try to understand the situation from their perspective. Use common sense to arrive at a solution that is favorable to both parties. However, the best way to avoid anger and confrontation is to fix possible nuisances before neighbors complain. For additional information about avoiding problems and lawsuits with neighbors, discuss the issues with an agent.

Mind Your Business: Surveillance Cameras and Video Monitoring

Surveillance and video monitoring have become very affordable, easy to implement, and effective. For very little investment, cameras can stream video onto the internet so the owner can monitor and record activities in their business, on site or remotely.

Data storage, that is image storage, is almost limitless; and the video history of the store can be kept in multiple locations for safety and replacement ease. Keeping logs and indexes simplifies filing to a few mouse clicks.

This video record has multiple uses. In real time, monitoring can deter violent crime, shoplifting, or employee theft. It can help address customer service by dispatching employees to underserved areas of a store, recognize a need for restocking merchandise, or securing a blind area on the premises.

Monitoring your business from any remote location allows you the freedom and capacity to balance your family and professional life better.

Historically, employee surveillance focused on stolen trade secrets and theft of goods. When computers became mainstream, production, sales, key strokes, and time wasting became monitor-able issues. The company would sweep off all games and lock out internet sites, monitor key strokes for productivity, even keep hours worked time cards based on key strokes.

Call center managers then recorded and/or listened in on calls for training purposes. With video capability, safety and security concerns are addressed.

Employees trained in safe behavior and conflict resolution may be better than those who are simply monitored; watching does not replace training. So, what are the effective uses of monitoring and surveillance?

Certainly watching the perimeter of the business, exits, entrances, and sensitive areas prevents break-ins and provides evidence when crimes occur. Monitoring the inside of the business after hours does much the same and helps detect fires, water leakage, earthquake damage, and other losses where quick response is vital.

When the public is on the premises, crime prevention, safety, and liability loss prevention top the list of concerns. Video has been used to discourage criminals from choosing businesses as a target, to witness parking lot dings and accidents, to prove the illegitimacy of slip and fall claims, and generally to keep records of what did and did not occur.

The video record of events is a great training tool. Choose examples of good customer service, poor service, difficult customers, identify good customers on sight for new employees, good lifting techniques and other safety tips, correct and incorrect behavior, or any other teaching moment gleaned from the tapes can become a lesson viewable at the convenience of the employee rather than holding a formal session on expensive company time.

One restaurant client even holds an “Academy Award” dinner with tapes from the year. Worst tray spill, funniest moment, most bizarre event, or any other noteworthy clip.

Perhaps if a customer goes out of their way to help a lost child or carry bags for an elderly patron, you can reward them with a framed picture of the event or a gift card.

You cannot possibly see and know everything that goes on in your business without employing many eyes. Cameras and surveillance equipment work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a one-time cost which is very affordable. No vacations, no health benefits, reliable, accessible from anywhere at any time. And, their memories are flawless. 

Best Practices for Arc Welding Safety

A welder’s job can be dangerous in more ways than what would appear to be evident.  Not only are there immediate injuries, like burns, but there are also injuries that can develop over time. 

Ultraviolet Radiation (UV) is created by an electric arc while you are welding.  If your skin is exposed to UV, you can be severely burned.  UV exposure can also damage the lens of the eye, which can lead to what is called “arc-eye.” Arc-eye is a condition in which you constantly feel as though there is sand in your eye. Another type of hazard created by the electric arc is Infrared Radiation (IR). IR can heat the surface of the skin as well as the tissues just below the skin, which can lead to thermal burns. Arc welding also exposes you to intense light and this can result in a variety of injuries, including damage to the retinas of your eyes.

That is why it is so important that you are properly clothed and protected from the heat, ultra-violet rays and infrared rays produced by the arc welder. To protect your torso, you should wear a pair of fire retardant long sleeved coveralls without cuffs. Do not wear clothing with tears, snags, rips, or worn spots because sparks can easily ignite them. Keep your sleeves and collars buttoned at all times while you are welding. Your hands should be protected with leather gauntlet gloves. Protect your feet by wearing a pair of high top leather shoes, preferably safety shoes. If you do wear low shoes, fire resistant leggings should be worn around your ankles.

Your eyes are one of the most vulnerable parts of your body when you are welding, so wear transparent goggles to protect them. In addition, it is mandatory that you wear a welding helmet or hand shield with filter plate and cover plate to protect your eyes from the harmful rays of the arc. Never use a helmet if the filter plate or cover lens is cracked or broken. A flameproof skullcap to protect the hair and head and hearing protection for the noise are also good practices.

Plastic disposable cigarette lighters are very dangerous around heat and flame. It is very important that you don’t carry them in your pockets while you are welding.

The work you are welding should be placed on a firebrick surface at a height that is comfortable for you. You should never weld directly on a concrete floor. Heat from the arc can cause steam to build-up in the floor, which could result in an explosion. Place the welder cables in a spot where sparks and molten metal won’t fall on them. They should also be kept free of grease and oil.

Avoid welding on steel or other metals that conduct electricity. But if you must, be sure you are standing on an insulating mat to prevent electric shock. If the area you are welding in is wet or damp or you are perspiring heavily, you should wear rubber gloves under the welding gloves to decrease the chance of being shocked.

Metal should always be thoroughly cleaned with a wire brush before welding. When chipping slag or wire brushing the finished bead, be sure to protect your eyes and body from flying debris. Unused electrodes and electrode stubs should never be left on the floor. Always handle hot metal with metal tongs or pliers.

When cooling hot metal in water it should be done carefully to prevent being burned from the escaping steam. Any metal left to cool should be carefully marked “HOT” with a soapstone. When you have finished working for the day, electrodes should be removed from the holder. The holder should be placed where no one can accidentally come in contact with it and the welder should be disconnected from its power source.

Keep Your Home Safe During Holiday Travel Time

Whether you’re planning a Caribbean vacation getaway, or a trip to visit relatives this holiday season, keep in mind that an empty house is a tempting target for a burglar. But with a little common sense and some careful planning, you can reduce the possibility that your home will be broken into while you’re gone.

* Prepare your first line of defense – Use sturdy locks on all doors and windows and secure before you leave. Repair any broken windows or locks. Never operate under the assumption that a burglar won’t find the one that’s faulty.

* Enlist the help of a trusted neighbor – Tell one neighbor your itinerary and your estimated time of arrival and return. That person should have a key to your front door to periodically check on the house, and a telephone number where you can be reached in an emergency.

* Don’t broadcast your plans – Especially in the era of social media, never post your travel plans on Facebook or Twitter. According to a recent article in the New York Times, tech-savvy thieves are taking advantage of the detailed information provided by unsuspecting social media users.

* Never let the house appear empty from the street – Stop your newspaper delivery, and have your neighbor pick up your mail and any packages left on the front porch. Arrange for someone to mow the lawn, rake leaves and clean the yard if you’ll be away for an extended period. Ask your neighbor to place garbage cans at the curb on normal pickup days and put them back after the garbage pickup. If you leave your car at home, park it where you normally would. However, be sure your neighbor moves it occasionally so that it appears the car is being driven. If you’re driving your car, have your neighbor periodically park in your driveway or in front of your house.

* Your home shouldn’t seem empty on the inside either – Plug in timers to turn lights and even a television on and off at appropriate times. Turn the ringer on your telephone down. If a burglar is around, and hears a call that goes unanswered, they’ll know you’re away. Don’t leave a message on your answering machine notifying everyone you’re on vacation. Leave your blinds, shades and curtains in a normal position. Don’t close them unless you would normally do so while at home.

* Don’t give thieves alternate ways to enter your home – Lock garage doors and windows. You should also secure storage sheds, attic entrances and yard gates.

* Don’t leave valuables in plain sight – Consider locking valuables in a bank safety deposit box. If you do leave valuables at home, make sure they are engraved. This simple precaution will allow stolen property to be easily identified and returned to you if recovered later.

Keeping Up with the Jones and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Navigating the winding straits of various state workers’ compensation systems can be difficult to do for companies traversing state lines, but what if the company employs people at sea?  If your business employs dockworkers or seamen of any sort, there are two acts you should be aware of.

The Jones Act (1920) – The Jones Act is a set of cabotage, or “admiralty” laws.  Cabotage defines who has the right to engage in air, rail, truck or waterborne transportation in a country and its coastal waters.  The Jones Act focuses on the latter.

Modeled in part after the Federal Employers Liability Act, which provides benefits to rail workers, the Jones Act governs the liability of vessel operators and marine employers for the work-related injury or death of an employee.  The Jones act provides heightened legal protections to seamen because of their exposure to the perils of the sea but does not define the term “seamen.”  Federal court decisions have narrowed the definition to exclude land-based workers, though.  Workers on offshore oil rigs, ships, barges, riverboat casinos, tug boats, shrimp boats, fishing boats, trawlers, tankers, crew boats, ferries and water taxis are among those who are eligible for Jones Act relief if injured. 

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (1927), a companion of sorts to the Jones Act, provides scheduled pay for injury or death, to a broad range of land-based maritime workers, excluding those covered under The Jones Act.  Usually, employees who load or unload vessels, build or repair ships, and stevedores are among those eligible for LHWCA status.  Unlike The Jones Act, which is not administered by a federal or state agency, The Department of Labor administers LHWCA.

Although differentiating among employees eligible for consideration under the two acts seems simple, much litigation has ensued over the years since the two acts came into being, because “the myriad circumstances in which men go upon the water confront courts not with discrete classes of maritime employees, but rather with a spectrum ranging from the blue-water seamen to the land-based longshoreman.” Brown v. ITT Rayonier, Inc., 497 F.2d 234, 236 (CA5 1974)

Broad P & I (Protection and Indemnity) policies, Maritime Employers Liability and Maritime Workers’ Compensation products are available to cover Jones Act or LHWCA liability.  Some products combine coverage for state workers’ compensation acts and Jones Act or LHWCA exposures.  There are also policies available for employers with no “known” Jones Act exposure.  

Although coverage for the liability imposed by employers under these acts may be more expensive than state workers’ compensation coverage, there may be penalties for non-compliance.  LHWCA, for example, imposes a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to a year.  Talk to your agent to discuss your exposures and to see what options are available.