Monday, 31 December 2012

Five safety resolutions you can keep

With the dawn of a New Year upon us, those of us committed to self improvement will no doubt be composing our lists of resolutions for 2013. Often, the things we want to change about ourselves are very apparent...yet other times still, while we know we want a change, we're unsure of where to effect one. If you find yourself “shopping” for resolutions for 2013, consider our suggestion: commit to a safer 2013. Here are our five suggestions for doing so.

Drink responsibly – The beauty of this one is that, if your methods for ringing in the New Year involve eating, drinking, and being merry, you can uphold this resolution right at the break of the coming year's advent. If you know that you will be consuming alcohol, make your plans for transportation well in advance—resist the temptation to “play it by ear.” Have a designated driver, or have a cab number handy for when you need it.

Give up road rage – Challenge yourself to adopt a new outlook when it comes to bad drivers that you have to contend with on the road. For example, if an aggressive driver pushes their way in front of you, rather than feeling like you've been cheated, let them have their way. While standing your ground is important in other areas of life, it simply isn't worth the risk on the road. You'll have an easier time managing this one if you ensure you have given yourself plenty of time to drive where you need to: you are less likely to be excited to frustration when you are relaxed and unhurried.

Go for your annual checkups – We usually think of safety as protecting ourselves from external sources of danger, but it's important for us to regulate internal sources of harm as well: namely, sickness. Be sure to go for a physical once a year, and see your dentist twice yearly. If there are additional visits that someone of your demographic should be observing, be sure that you are on top of those as well.

Be emergency ready – If you haven't already done so, put together some resources for your family for emergency situations. There may be emergency situations that draw you out of your home, in which case you want to make things easy for a friend or family member who comes to look after your house in your absence. A binder with your household procedures, frequent contacts, and information about the whereabouts of key items is a good way to start. Having some ready to go meals in the freezer can be useful as well. Conversely, some emergencies may bind you to your home. In this case, you want to ensure that you have your emergency kits well stocked. Be sure to have adequate drinking water, food, and personal/medical items on hand for several days.

Be neighbourly – If there are people in your neighbourhood that you have yet to meet, make it a point to get to know them this year. Having a strong sense of community fosters safety, as the individual members of the community ensure that they are looking out for one another's well being.

How else might you commit to safer year? We'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Toy safety

Between shopping for toys to give as presents, and scoring deals during boxing week sales, you may find yourself buying toys at a higher volume than you typically do. If that’s the case, this means you are probably in need of some tips for toy safety. Observing a few of these suggestions will protect both the child’s enjoyment and safety in using their toys.

The shopping

  •  If you are unsure of whether a certain toy is age appropriate, check the box. Often, toy manufacturers will provide a suggested age for a given toy.
  • When there are multiple options for one type of toy, opt for the one that looks sturdiest; toys that don’t fall apart easily are less likely to be potentials for choking hazards.
  •  Make sure you buy from a manufacturer that you can contact if something goes wrongs.

The playing

  •  Children ages three years and younger do most of their exploring with their mouths, so when shopping for these little ones, and when determining what objects to keep within their reach, avoid small pieces that may fit into their mouths. Be mindful of broken parts as well, since those can be easily “eaten.”
  • While stuffed animals and dolls may seem like a safe bet, the hazard that they present is when their features are not secure. Check eyes to ensure that they are fastened securely, and remove accessories that come off easily and may be placed in a child’s mouth.
  • With mechanical toys, like cars and trains, ensure that their wheels are fastened securely.

The cleanup

  • employing a sorting system of some kind to keep toys for older children separate from toys for younger children. This will reduce the chances of choking hazards being accidentally presented to little ones.
  • Toy boxes and their lids should be lightweight so that they don’t fall on a child and injure the child.
  • Toy boxes should not be hazards in and of themselves, so make sure they have ventilation in case a child accidentally gets into one of them.
  •  Also ensure that the box does not lock to avoid trapping a person inside.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Hailstorm driving safety

It probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that Calgary's hailstorm of this past August ranked among Environment Canada's top ten weather events of 2012. Those of us who were on the road at the time still have visions of jackknifed semis and an endless row of vehicles along the highway shoulder. It caught most of us by surprise. So, while it is true that the best way to protect yourself from the dangers of driving in a hailstorm is simply to stay in doors when you know one is approaching, you may not always know. And in this case, you should know a bit about safe conduct when driving in a hailstorm.

  • If a hailstorm has just started before you have begun driving to your destination, it would be a good idea to cancel or delay your plans if possible.

  • Make sure your headlights are on (not your high beams) and try to reduce your speed. 

  • Just as you would allow more distance between yourself and the car in front of you during rainy and snowy weather, keep a good distance back from other cars when driving in the hail. 

  • When it is safe to do so, bring your vehicle onto the shoulder and park outside of the flow of traffic. Avoid parking near objects that may fall on your vehicle as a result of the storm. 

  • Turn on your emergency flashers.

  • Keep your car oriented so that the hail is hitting the windshield; windshields are actually made stronger than the rest of the glass in your car, in order to be able to withstand that extra disturbance. Conversely, the rest of the glass in your car could be broken.

  • If a section of your car's glass does become broken, carefully remove the glass pieces to avoid injury, and try to cover the resulting hole to prevent water from entering your car, causing additional damage.
If your vehicle sustains damage as a result of the hailstorm, notify your insurance provider as soon as you can in order to begin filing your claim. Discussing the damage with your insurance provider will allow them to help you figure out the best methods of going about your repairs. Be sure to set up a time to have the damage assessed. Once you have done these things, then you should go ahead with the actual repair of your vehicle. Whether the damage is strictly cosmetic, or whether it affects the functioning of your vehicle, taking it to a professional is a must. Once the repairs have been made, check your vehicle over to ensure that you are satisfied with the job done. Do not accept the job as complete otherwise, and be sure to get a guarantee in writing from the shop where you had your vehicle repaired. Once the repair is complete, follow your broker's instructions for filing your claim.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Giving the gift of insurance

With the holidays approaching, and with people trying to find creative, thoughtful, and highly practical gifts for their loved ones, one question we have been asked a few times recently is whether it is possible to buy insurance for someone else. The quick answer to this question is: usually. Let's take a look at the types of insurance that people usually want to buy for a loved one, and discuss how that may be done.

Life insurance – the most common type of insurance that people look to buy for someone other than themselves is life insurance. Typically, the person they wish to insure is someone very close to them—a family member in most cases. That said, the “typically” is key here: very seldom will you see it done that a person buys life insurance for a very distant relative, or an acquaintance from work. The reason for this is that in order to buy life insurance for another person, you must demonstrate that you have what is called “insurable interest” in this person; that is to say, that your life would be severely impacted for the worse if they were to pass away. This impact can be both financial and emotional. With members of your immediate family, such as parents, spouses, and children, this is automatically understood. With relations that are more distant that this, however, you may need to demonstrate your “insurable interest” in the party you wish to buy insurance for.

Car insurance – it is certainly possible to buy car insurance for someone other than yourself, even for a car other than your own. What is required in such a case is that the owner of the vehicle you are insuring has consented, and that the owner benefits from the policy you are purchasing. The most common example of this is actually not a gift giving scenario, but rather, one in which a youth or young adult borrows their parent's vehicle, but covers the cost of insurance themselves. In such a case, the youth or young adult is not the owner of the vehicle, and yet is purchasing insurance for that vehicle. Another instance when this happens is one that you have probably already engaged in without even realizing it: when you rent a car, there is insurance that goes along with that. If you stop to think about it for a moment you will realize that you have paid insurance for property that is not yours.

Health insurance – you can most certainly buy health insurance for a spouse or a dependent, but beyond this, it would not be possible for you to be the one signing on a policy for someone who is either distantly related, or completely unrelated to you. There is nothing to stop you from offering such a person the funds for a health insurance policy of their own, but ultimately, they would need to be the ones signing for it.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Mind your blades - knife handling safety tips

With the holidays approaching, whether you decide to purchase most of your food for entertainment ready-made, or whether you decide to go the homemade route, either way, you are probably going to be doing a lot more food prepping than you typically do. As such, you're likely going to be handling knives more than usual, which in turn will increase the risks associated with knife related injuries. Be sure to follow these knife handling safety tips to avoid this trend:
  • Maintain your tools – knives that are well sharpened are far less likely to be causes of injury than dull knives. It is important to take good care of your knives to protect their sharpness. Be sure to wash and dry them soon after use, and store them in a knife block so that they're not rattling around in drawers, getting dinged by other objects in there. Also, be sure to cut on appropriate surfaces to ensure your knives don't dull prematurely. Of course, even with the best of care, knives will dull over time, so you should be in the habit of getting them sharpened. While there are tools for sharpening your knives at home, unless you are very experienced in the practice of blade sharpening, you really should take your knives to a professional for sharpening.

  • Let there be light – be sure that you are working in a well lit area. When you can see what you are doing, you are less likely to cause injury to yourself.

  • Eliminate distractions – most accidents, whether on the road, at work, or at home, happen when your attention is divided. This being the case, be sure to focus on what you are doing: when you are using sharp objects, keep your attention directed at the task on hand.

  • Cut away from yourself – when you are cutting, use strokes that move away from you, and not towards you.

  • Don't catch it - If you drop a knife, or if you see it is going to fall, don't try to catch it (this is counter intuitive because our reflexes usually have us reaching out to prevent objects from hitting the ground). Move away from the falling knife, and retrieve it only after it lands.

  • Don't pry – as tempting as it may be, using a knife for prying, as you may think to do when you have a jar that's difficult to open, is a bad idea. It is likely to cause injury to you, and damage to the blade. If you find that you are often reaching for a knife to pry open your jars, it would be a good idea to invest in a kitchen gadget designed to help you open jars instead.

  • Don't run – never run with a knife in your hand. If you have to run, remember to put the knife down first.

  • Don't throw – it may sound absurdly obvious, but it actually happens frequently that people give knives to others improperly. Don't throw or even toss a knife to someone else; pass it instead.

  • Use cutting boards – never cut against the palm of your hand. You may be deceived into feeling like you have control, but one slip of the knife is all it takes to prove otherwise. Use cutting boards instead. Cutting boards are specially designed to protect your knives too.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Pet insurance: why might you need it?

Most people—including most pet owners—are unaware of the option of investing in pet insurance. This is definitely not one of those everyone-talks-about-it types of insurance. That said, its relative obscurity isn't necessarily proportionate to its value for those who could benefit from it. Until recently, treatments for pets were not nearly as advanced as healthcare techniques that are available to humans. Now, however, there are more treatments available to pets than ever before, and they span a much wider range of prices. For example, pets today have access to treatments like radiation therapy, and even kidney transplants. Treatments for life threatening illnesses for pets can cost anywhere from $1000 to well over $5000. Given that this is the case, investing in pet insurance may be worth your while. The benefits of investing in pet insurance include:

  • It comes with flexibility: you have the freedom to choose whichever veterinarian you prefer. This makes for easy claim payment: all that is required of you is to provide your insurance broker with your veterinary bill in order to be reimbursed for the expenses that qualify.
  • Pet insurance is available to animals of all ages and breeds, and usually rates are unaffected by either of these variables. That said, you can lower your pet insurance premium by getting insurance as soon as you bring your pet home, rather than waiting until later.

  • Having pet insurance eliminates the distraction that comes with worrying about finances, and allows you to make clear decisions about the well-being of your pet. When financial stress is not a factor in your decision making, this gives you the freedom to select treatments on the basis of how suitable and beneficial they are to your pet, rather than on what you are presently able to afford. 

  • Knowing that most animals require serious medical attention at some point or another, the wise thing to do is budget a little bit for this purpose regularly. Paying into pet insurance provides you with a really easy, trackable way to do this. You can pay at intervals of your choice (one every months, once every three months, twice a year, once a year, etc). This allows you to budget this area around other expenses you may have with great flexibility. 

  • You often receive discounts when insuring multiple pets in one household. 

  • You don't have to reach into your slush fund when your pet's health takes a turn for the worse. This means your emergency savings won't be depleted as quickly, and can be directed towards other crises.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Holiday hazards - part 2

Continuing our discussion around the various sources of risks for health and safety around the holidays, let's look at a few more such hazards in order to determine how to minimize the dangers that they present.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire – well, sort of. Unless your chestnuts have gone bad, then the real danger here is the idea of live and open flames in the house. If you have a fireplace, be sure that you are using it properly: don't use it if it has not been cleaned regularly and checked for obstructions, as the smoke that would ensue from improper ventilation could be very harmful. Additionally, be careful about what you use as kindling. The fireplace may seem like a good place to throw out leftover gift wrapping, but that's a dangerous practice: it can cause the fire to spread quickly beyond the fireplace, and depending on what it's made of, it can give off toxic fumes. Stick to split hardwood instead. If you're going to light candles, be mindful of where you place them. Since your home will generally have more “stuff” around it during the holidays, ensure that you don't place a candle near objects that may catch fire. Also, keep them out of reach of children and pets, and never leave them unattended.

Alcohol – certainly eat, drink, and be merry, but you're certain not to spoil your merriment if you are careful about the presence and consumption of alcohol around your home. Ensure that alcoholic beverages are out of the reach of children in a location that is secure and/or very hard for them to access. This is important because it doesn't take a great quantity of alcohol to bring upon alcohol poisoning in children. Pets are also at risk of alcohol poisoning, so it is imperative that such beverages are not within their ability to access at all. In addition to protecting those susceptible from alcohol poisoning, it's important to ensure that those consuming alcoholic beverages don't make hazards of themselves. Know your limits, and try not to exceed them. That said, you should be mindful of the fact that certain variables (such as fatigue, changes in altitude, etc.) might increase your sensitivity to alcohol, so despite your best intentions, you may find that you've still gone too far. In this case, be prepared with alternative means of transportation (or accommodation until you are fit to drive again).

Snow – as much of an inconvenience as it is, it's important to allot enough time for the safe and proper removal of snow. Failure to do so may put you in a situation where you don't clean your vehicle before heading to your destination because you are rushing. This is dangerous because of the reduced visibility it gives you, but also because of the risk your vehicle now poses to others on the road. You could be held liable for snow or ice that falls from your car and causes harm to in short, if you want to avoid increased insurance rates, clean your car. In addition to cleaning your vehicle, you will also need to ensure that your property is properly shoveled: all walkways, driveways, and sidewalks must be cleared. Not only does it become a liability issue if somebody else should sustain an injury on your property owing to improper cleaning, but in cities like Calgary, the municipality will frequently fine you if they have found occasion to pick up your slack. You can avoid this by staying on top of your snow duties. That said, with the amount of snow removal that you have to do, it's important that you don't let it become a source of injury to yourself. The physical exertion required to deal with heavy snowfall affects all people of all ages, and of all degrees of health. To reduce the risks of heart attack, pulled muscles, and respiratory illness, take frequent breaks, allowing your body to rest and to warm. This is where giving yourself adequate time is key.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Holiday hazards - part 1

There are countless activities to become engaged in during times of festivity. We find ourselves shopping more, socializing more, driving more, decorating more, cooking more—in fact, we tend to live more, in a concentrated way, around holidays. The drawback is that increased activities present an increase in the risks of the dangers associated with any of these activities. However, with a little bit of mindfulness and foresight, such hazards can be dodged.

Children – with increased gatherings among family and friends, you can expect that you'll have a higher amount of contact time with children than you typically do, so it's important to be mindful of their health and safety. Be aware of the whereabouts, their medical conditions, and their temperaments to ensure that they are not getting into things that either put themselves at risk, or put those around them at risk of danger or illness.

Pets – While you are well versed in how to best care for your pets, your visitors may not be. Your guests may be very easily guilted into sharing their plate with your dog who knows just how to rest his head on a person's lap and beg with those woefully sad eyes. The danger is that, while dogs can consume a lot of what people eat, some foods are absolutely detrimental to them—particularly chocolate. Dogs who eat chocolate can become poisoned, and in some cases, even die as a result. So, before your guests are placed in such a situation, let them know what your dog can and cannot eat. Also, with all pets in general, children who are not used to being around animals can find themselves in two unpleasant predicaments: being harmed by an animal they have aggravated, and causing harm or injury to the animal. If you think there's a chance of either of these situations taking place, it may be wise to keep your pets and guests separate by limiting them to different rooms.

Unstable décor – precariously situated trees and ornaments, wreaths hung on hooks that can't support their weight, and swags haphazardly attached to surfaces are all disasters waiting to happen. Ensure that your tree is securely set in a properly fitting base, and that you don't have fragile ornaments hanging delicately on the tip of a downward pointing branch, ready to slide off to its demise and the first sign of someone sneezing. If you're going to hang a wreath on your door, use a proper door hanger that will support its weight. Fasten your greenery securely to make sure that it doesn't inadvertently turn itself into a weapon.

Mold – while damp winters already present this risk (thankfully, the dry Albertan air we breathe minimizes that), the risk of mold increases with the introduction of natural foliage into your home. Live Christmas trees, as well as swags and wreaths made from real evergreens can harbor mold, causing illness, and exacerbating respiratory conditions like allergies and asthma. The way to combat this is to spray any such foliage with a mold resistant treatment before bringing it into your home. Additionally, the use of an air purifier will further help to protect you from such a problem.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Four ways to reduce your holiday spending

Most of us loathe to see the hijacking of our favourite holidays by commercialism and pressure to spend. Yet, we have come to harbour so many expectations of how the holidays ought to be celebrated, and it often takes the spending of money to meet those expectations. Fortunately, there exist alternatives for the money conscious. Here are our top four ideas:

Ditch the wrapping paper: you may need to rely on disposable gift wrapping for gifts you give outside your home, but within your household, you can do away with throwaway materials in favour of reusable fabric bags. It takes absolutely minimalistic sewing skills to make a rectangular bag, and with the amusing fabric selections out there, homemade bags will serve double duty both as gift wrap, as well as an addition to the décor. If you're really uneasy about the idea of sewing, you're not out of luck: reusable grocery bags can be bought cheaply in an array of colours. Not only are you reducing your landfill contributions by using reusable bags, but you will also see savings over the years to come in money that you're not spending on wrapping paper.

Use second hand décor: try not to get suckered by designer displays of décor that stores set up this time of year. It helps to realize that those displays won't look that way in your own home. Instead of paying for these pricey pieces, do a little bit of digging on Craigslist, at garage sales, at church rummage sales, or in your friend's attic. Not only will you spend less (or sometimes even nothing at all!) you're also bound to acquire one of a kind items that aren't in production anymore. That will add sparkle and uniqueness to your setup.

Plan gift shopping throughout the year: anticipating your holiday spending can help you save in a couple of ways. First of all, planning ahead gives you plenty of time to lie in wait of a once-a-year type of deal on the items you are looking to buy. Additionally, it helps you stay focused, which reduces the chances of you overspending. When you are armed with a plan, sticking to it will ensure that you don't get caught up in the holiday hysteria of “deals” and of the urgency to get something fast.

Eat in: while meeting friends and family at a favourite restaurant can be a great time, so can hosting a dinner in your own home—especially since your holiday décor will create an ambiance unique to that time of year. Hosting gatherings at someone's house will be both more frugal, and more personal. It doesn't need to be extravagant either. If the thought of cooking a Dickens-style feast for the whole neighbourhood intimidates you, realize that you don't need to go to such proportions. You can scale back by:
  • keeping the gatherings intimate (limiting numbers)
  • hosting a potluck (so that the work is shared—and people are usually quite happy to contribute!)
  • hosting tea and dessert instead of a full on meal

What are your favourite frugal holiday traditions?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Instrumental insurance

Whether you dabble in a bit of amateur music playing from time to time, or whether playing music is your profession and greatest passion, you know that musical instruments are costly pieces. Accordingly, you want to ensure that these investments are protected. While basic homeowners insurance policies may cover some damage to such pieces, they are not all-encompassing: they do not cover all types of damage, nor do they cover very costly instruments in full. For this reason, it's important for you to get in touch with your insurance provider, learn the extent of the coverage you already have, and then supplement it as necessary.

As you might expect, acquiring additional coverage for your instruments will present you with many, many choices. For this reason, at the very outset of your mission, you want to consider the extent to which your life is affected by your music playing. If it is your livelihood, then any disruption to your ability to play will have an immediate, and significant impact on you. If you only play your instrument occasionally, and for leisure, this may not be the case. However, if you make a living this way, then you may actually be without income, should damage or loss occur. Accordingly, you will want more comprehensive coverage for your instruments if you use them professionally than if they are simply for leisure. The more comprehensive your selected coverage, the less costly it will be for you to manage while your instrument is being replaced or repaired. For example, there are some plans that will even cover the cost of a rental instrument in the invent that you need to rent one to use while you wait on your own to return.

Of course, knowing the value of your instrument is key in ensuring that you are appropriately covered. While it is good practice to store receipts for such large purchases in a place where they can be readily accessed, if the instrument was purchased long ago (or inherited) then it might actually be worth more than the receipt value. An appraisal may be very useful in such a situation; you should know what it would cost to repair and replace your instrument today, and insure it for its replacement value.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Ice skating safety

With no shortage of skating rinks amidst our chilly Albertan winters, ice skating is one of those winter activities that we eagerly anticipate. It's an easy and exhilarating way to experience the outdoors and to get some fresh air into your lungs. Of course, following proper safety guidelines can make this already enjoyable activity even more enjoyable.

To begin with, you want to ensure that your skates actually fit you properly. For one thing, comfort is key in that being comfortable helps to ensure that you make safe decisions by eliminating a source of distraction (discomfort). But even more importantly, properly fitted skates give your ankles the support they need, without which you could find yourself injured very easily. For these reasons, you should take the time to try on your skates beforehand (especially at the start of the season). To be really sure of their fit, once you have them on, put some skate guards on your blades and walk around in them for a few minutes. This will give you a sense of their ability to support you.

Once you know you have the right fit, it's time to attend to matters of maintenance. No dull, rusty blades allowed! Bad blades make for loss of control on the ice, so we want to avoid that. At the start of each skating season, take your skates to a professional for sharpening. To maintain your blades throughout the season, wipe them dry with a rag after each session on the ice.

Part of protecting your comfort and health involves dressing appropriately. You want to dress warmly, and you also want to be able to adjust your temperature as necessary. This can be achieved by layering. Make sure you have mittens, and warm socks that fit comfortably into your skates.

When you get to the actual skating, only skate on ice that has been appropriately prepared (smoothed and cleared), where you know, beyond all doubt, the ice is strong enough to support your weight. Do your part in this regard by being on the lookout for compromised ice: ice with holes, cracks, or with rubble frozen into it.

If you have not skated in some time, revisit your techniques for stopping and falling before you get into the serious part of your skating excursion. Be sure that you never skate entirely alone, and that you allow yourself resting periods when you find yourself tiring.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Five habits to cultivate for safer driving

As we become more experienced drivers, we can become overconfident in the amount of control we have as drivers, and can drop some of the habits that have been keeping us safe. It may have been years since we had an accident, or even a close-call, and so we become blissfully ignorant of the risks of driving. Becoming sloppy in this regard can cost us financially and personally; consistently driving without taking proper safety precautions will likely lead you to be involved in an accident. Or, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an expensive ticket. At any rate, it's important for us to revisit and recultivate these habits.

1. Obey speed limits
Excessive speed is a factor in one-third of all fatal crashes, yet most people admit to speeding on a regular basis. Speeding is dangerous because it makes it more difficult to spot and react to conditions on the road. The faster you're going, the less likely you'll be able to react to a stalled car in your lane or a patch of ice in your path. In winter especially, speeding should be avoided at all costs. It usually doesn't get you to your destination any quicker, since most cities have timed lights which favour people going the speed limit, and it puts you and everyone else on the road at risk.

2. Cut out distractions
Followers of our blog may be getting tired of all the articles we write on the dangers of distracted driving, but it is a serious problem that has only recently been getting attention. In the US, 20% of injury crashes involve reports of distracted driving. While you may not think that programming your GPS or fiddling with your iPod is a serious threat to your safety, the statistics show otherwise.

3. Maintain safe distances with other vehicles
Following the driver ahead of you too closely is one of the worst habits you can develop as a driver. Not only does it put you in danger, but it directly threatens the safety of the person ahead of you. If they were to  slow down quickly to react to road conditions, you could rear end them and injure both parties. If someone is driving too slowly in the passing lane, a quick tap on the horn will let them know that they should be in the right-hand lane. If you aren't sure whether you're following too closely, try this trick: count the seconds it takes for your car to pass the same fixed object that the car ahead of you just passed. If it is less than two seconds, you're tailgating. In poor weather, there should be four seconds between you and the car ahead.

4. Use your signal
Signalling is one of the simplest habits to implement. You literally only have to lift a pinkie to signal properly. Signalling lets other drivers know when you're changing lanes or turning. In city driving, where you may have to slow down abruptly to turn, it's important that you let the driver behind you know. Otherwise, you may find yourself in rear-ended!

5. Plan ahead when you know you'll be consuming alcohol
After having a few drinks at the bar, it's easy to think that you haven't had "too much." Despite how you may feel, remember that you should not drive for at least two hours after having a drink. Make your life easier and take a taxi or walk home -- it's simply not worth the risk of getting a DUI offense and having your license revoked, or causing an accident because of your negligence.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Ski and snowboard safety

If there's one consolation for an early start to winter, it's the prospect of having a longer ski and snowboard season. As with all forms of physical activity, a little bit of planning and preparedness can make for a much more enjoyable time. Here are our tips for getting the most out of your time on the slopes.

Before you go...
  • Be sure that you're in shape, and be realistic about what you can and can't handle. Try to resist the urge to make skiing your primary vehicle for weight loss—you'll end up overexerting yourself that way.
  • Have the right gear. Proper fits and sizes are key here. You don't necessarily need to spend a great deal of money to achieve this. If you don't ski regularly, then consider renting what you need.
  • Stay warm, and stay dry. Look for clothing that are resistant to water and wind, and remember to wear a hat and gloves. Additionally, dressing in layers will help you to maintain just the right body temperature.
  • Mind your eyes. Snow blindness is a terrible way to ruin your excursion, so make sure you're wearing protective eyewear.
  • Despite the cold, don't underestimate the likelihood of sunburn. Protect exposed skin accordingly.

Once you're there...
  • If you're inexperienced, get help from the pros and take a lesson. You'll enjoy yourself more when you know what you're doing, and will minimize the chances of injury that way too.
  • Stay focused. The best way to make safe decisions is to have your wits about you. As with driving, decisions made during snowboarding and skiing need to be done quickly; you won't be able to achieve this in a distracted state.
  • Stay hydrated. This will help make sure your mind is working as it should.
  • Engage in a physical warm up before you actually start skiing.
  • Don't wait until you're tired to stop.
  • Learn about the various types of snow (hard, wet, etc) and how they alter your speed on the slopes. Adjust your movements accordingly in order to maintain control.
  • If you find yourself on a slope that's too difficult, keep your skiis on and side step down the slope.
  • Remember that people ahead of you have the right of way.
  • Only stop where it is clear and safe to do so (where you won't be in someone else's way).
  • Know how to use the lifts.
  • Obey signs.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Childproofing your home

Whether you have children of your own, or may be expecting children in your home as friends and family visit during upcoming holidays, knowing how to childproof your home can prevent a great deal of distress. While the list of possible measures one may take to achieve this may be endless, we think starting with these five areas are the best ways to start.

Stairs – if the child in question is too young to be using stairs unsupervised, you'll want to make sure that there is no chance of them finding themselves presented with the opportunity to explore stairs. The most effective way to do this is to use a gate. Gates are also handy to have because if there is a particular room that you want to keep a baby out of, the gate can be applied to the entryway of that room as well.

Corners – corners and edges of furniture pieces, and of the actual structure of your home itself, can often be cause of injury for babies who move with little control over their tendency to bump into things. Since much of this bumping can involve their heads, you want to minimize the chances that such a bump will involve a sharp corner or edge—that could be disastrous. Covering corners and edges with bumpers will make these surfaces less injurious.

Storage spaces – the wee folk love to explore spaces that open and close. The danger here is that they may close a door or drawer on themselves, and may even get themselves stuck inside one of these spaces. For this reason, you'll want to use safety locks and latches to prevent them from being able to open and close items like closets, cupboards, and drawers.

Faucets – while it is unlikely that a very young child would be able to reach a sink or shower head on their own, children have ways of surprising us with what they can and can't do. This is why it's important to childproof your faucets. In order to make sure that wandering hands don't find a way to scald themselves with hot water from the tap, install anti-scalding devices on your sinks and showers.

Furniture and appliances – crawlers are explorers, and a big part of the exploration process involves pushing (a very sophisticated science, as you may know). Since you know that babies will be hitting and pushing objects that are within their reach, you don't want to risk that they will knock something over and have it land on them...particularly heavy objects. To prevent this, anchor and secure heavy and unstable pieces of furniture and appliances so that this is not a possibility.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Eight steps to a safer flight

For many of us, flying as a means of traveling where we need to go is so commonplace that we seldom give it much thought. Yet for others among us, flying is something we do so infrequently, that when it comes time to board a plane, it's a big deal. For either group, reviewing air-travel safety is always a good idea: it reminds the frequent flyers of the necessity of safety measures that traveling so often may have caused them to take for granted, and it educates the less experienced flyers among us of the things they can do to protect their own safety (which in turn should give them peace of mind). The following are effective ways to increase your safety while filing.

Choose nonstop flights. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of aircraft accidents are not actually the result of a plane suddenly tumbling, mid flight, from high altitudes. Rather, most accidents take place during take off and landing. A direct flight compared to its one-stop counterpart has half the number of take offs and landings (one each, as opposed to two each). That effectively cuts the risk of collision in half. That said, such a risk is already quite small to begin with, so if stopovers cannot be avoided, this is not reason to be worried.

Choose larger aircraft. This is much easier than it sounds: if you're flying through a major airport, you've already met this requirement. Despite the variances in plane sizes that most airlines rely on, they all fall under the category of larger aircraft. A small plane is one that has a maximum take off weight (total, including the aircraft itself) of 12,500 lbs or less.

Observe safety instructions closely. This can actually be a challenge simply because of how boring it might seem—especially if you're in the second leg of your flight and have just watched such a presentation only hours ago. That said, it's key that you commit this information to memory. If you're traveling with others, one good strategy to use is to use the provided safety pamphlets to quiz each other and verify that you know what to do in various emergency situations.

Respect the rules. Aircraft personnel are doing their best to ensure a safe flight for all, and have been well trained to meet that end. For this reason, you should listen to them. If a flight attendant asks you to put away a certain electronic device during take off, comply. It isn't appropriate to start explaining why your device is exceptional. It's only a few minutes before you'll be able to use it again anyway.

Note your exits. In the event of an emergency landing, knowing which exit is closest to you will help you move more quickly and effectively.

Stay hydrated. Health and safety are closely linked, and hydration is one of, if not the, foremost factor in maintaining good health. Proper hydration will ensure that you are alert and able to think clearly and respond quickly in case something goes amiss.

Avoid excessive alcohol. While some rely on the powers of intoxication to ease them through their fears of flying, you're much less likely to be able to make safe decisions in emergency situations if you are inebriated.

Remember that your own safety comes first. This is a tough one if you're traveling with children because intuitively, you tend to put them before yourself. If you're in a situation that calls for the donning of oxygen masks though, you're not going to be able to help anyone if you don't attend to your own safety first.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Home insurance: facts and fiction

  1. Standard home owner's insurance will not cover damage done to a home as a result of flooding.
    FACT: despite that flood damage is actually quite a common type of disaster facing property owners, coverage against flood damage does not fall under standard home insurance policies.

  2. My basic home owner's insurance policy will protect me if I am injured on my own property.
    FICTION: Any coverage pertaining to injury incurred on your property applies to guests that visit you in your home, and not to yourself or your family members (or anyone residing there).

  3. I should avoid filing any claims at all because each one will cause my premiums to increase.
    FICTION: it usually takes more than one claim to have an effect on your rates.

  4. If the cost of repairing the damage myself is close to the cost of the deductible, I should skip filing a claim.
    FACT: this is actually the most prudent thing to do if it is the case that you would be spending a similar amount either way, because it's one less incident that might contribute to increasing premiums.

  5. Opting for less coverage is a great way to get lower premiums.
    FICTION: while opting for less coverage may indeed lower your premiums, it's a pretty poor decision to make, and it could end up costing you far more than you “save” by not being adequately covered. Make sure your coverage is complete. To lower your premiums, talk to your agent and find out what incentives help to get you lower rates (like, for example, installing a house alarm).

  6. In the event of an extreme natural disaster that affects a large region, government aid will cover the damage to my home.
    FICTION: some of us could probably could get by without home owner's insurance if that were the case, but it simply isn't.

  7. When buying a new property, making a down payment of 20% or greater will reduce the amount I spend on insurance.
    FACT: while making a down payment of less than 20% does not increase your home owner's insurance per se, it does mean that you must purchase mortgage insurance in addition to your home insurance policy, so making a down payment of 20% definitely helps you avoid that.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Facts about superbugs

In light of a recent article put forth by the CBC about the prevalence of superbugs in hotel rooms, we wanted to review what exactly these superbugs are, how they came out about, and how you can best protect yourself from them.

To begin with, the term “superbug” refers to a type of bacteria that has evolved resistance to antibiotics. The most common superbugs right now are: MRSA (methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus), C. diff (clostridium difficile), and VRE (vancomycin resistant enterococci). There are numerous factors that experts believe have contributed to their evolution. One is the abuse or overuse of antibiotics. Many times when we come down with a bad head cold or flu like symptoms, we assume we can be treated with medicine. However, if the infection is viral, using antibiotics is not going to treat the infection at all. It might, however, start training other bacteria to develop resistance to it. Another way that antibiotics are dangerously misused is in patients who don't complete their doses. All to often, a patient will start a course of antibiotics, start feeling better within three days, and deem it unnecessary to continue taking them. This is one of the most dangerous practices out there because rather than completely killing the bacteria, you are fighting it just enough to encourage it to fight back by means of evolving stronger strains. If this describes your current antibiotic consumption pattern, you are unfortunately guilty of providing a training arena for superbugs in your body.

Another area in which antibiotics are being misused is in the farming industry, where animals are routinely fed with antibiotics to prevent them from catching diseases in their overcrowded conditions. The trouble again is that when antibiotics are administered without need, rather than containing an existing infection, this practice alerts bacteria to a new “enemy” that they will waste no time in evolving against.

Now, it may seem silly to tell you this, but your greatest safeguard against these infections truly is rooted in hygienic procedures. Most people's handwashing habits are actually not up to the standard required for fighting off infections. Handwashing should be thorough, and should take twenty seconds (the time it takes you to sing “happy birthday”--assuming you're not rushing through it). You should also ensure that in addition to the palms of your hands, the other (easy to forget) parts get adequate attention—especially the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and your thumbs. Additionally, using antimicrobial wipes on surfaces that you touch regularly will help offer additional protection. Observing these practices will do a tremendous amount to keep you healthy.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Don't let your house give your money away!

With Alberta's early onset of cold weather, we got to thinking about the fact that heating bills are likely to go up earlier than usual as a result...and that got us thinking about the various resources we pay for in our homes, and what we can do to reduce their respective costs. If there are portions of your home that are in need of repair, and if these areas go unchecked, your house could be giving away your hard earned money. Here are a few ways to make sure that Chez Toi doesn't get away with such behaviour.

Replace old windows – if your windows are old, they may be allowing the cold to penetrate your home at a faster rate than usual. This is especially true if your home is over twenty years old. One very simple criteria that your windows should meet in order to avoid heat loss is that there should be a double pane. Single panes don't do enough to insulate the air in your home and protect it from the air outside.

Unplug unused appliances – anything occupying an electric socket, regardless of whether or not it is currently in operation, is consuming energy. You can avoid such waste by unplugging appliances when you're not using them. Items like hair dryers, electric kettles, toasters, phone chargers, and coffee makers, are good places to start.

Consider caulking – Don't underestimate the power of small cracks and crevices to substantially lower your home's efficiency. Sealing off these openings could save you around 10% in energy consumption—hardly a number to sniff at. This is a project that is very low cost, not particularly time consuming, and requires no expertise. All you need is a caulking gun, and the caulk to load it with. Running this treatment along the edges of your windows will give you a good seal to keep the draft out. And you needn't worry: when the weather turns mild again, and you're ready to open your windows, the caulking will come off with just a little bit of pulling on your part, with no damage whatsoever to the areas it was applied to.

Don't ignore a leaky toilet tank – alas, the nuisance of that ongoing sound of a tank trying to refill itself to no avail isn't the only drawback of a leaky toilet tank. You're losing water as well. Putting off the repair can make it so that you become accustomed to it, and forget to look after it long term. Avoid unnecessary loss by making repairs in a timely fashion.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Three ways that travel insurance protects you

As we know, despite our best laid plans for travel, life happens. We just wish the “happenings” didn't have to coincide with out travel plans because the last thing we'd really like to see there is to have these plans disrupted. That said, no amount of wishful thinking is going to protect you from calamity when it strikes, or to recover your holiday plans when they go awry. Travel insurance is actually extremely low cost—especially considering the substantial degree of protection it gives you. Here are some situations where having travel insurance will make a significant impact on you:

An emergency situation in your life forces you to cancel your trip. “Oh, that's not me,” you say. “I wouldn't be booking a trip unless I was one thousand percent sure I could go, so I won't need to worry about canceling.” It's great that you're such a careful planner—that will definitely make for a smoother holiday for you. The trouble with that reasoning, though, is that not all of the factors that determine whether or not you are able to travel are within your control. Sudden onset of severe illness, and family crises, aren't well-mannered enough to ask, “is now a good time?”

You lose your job. People are even less likely to consider this possibility than those of illness or untimely deaths in their families, but just like these crises, job loss isn't always predictable. If you need to cancel a trip because you have lost your job, having travel insurance ensures that you can do so without any financial loss; you should be reimbursed in full. It should be noted, though, that this only applies if the job loss is involuntary; if you quit or retire, that would not count as job loss.

Your travel provider goes belly up. Unfortunately, this is actually a pretty common occurrence. A good travel insurance policy should cover you in case of disruptions involving your airline, your cruise, your place of accommodation, and your tour providers.

These are just three of several misfortunes that travel insurance can protect you from. You don't want to be without it.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

But can I take my tires with me?

An early onset of this year's winter season saw Albertans scrambling to get their tires changed much earlier than they typically would. Interestingly enough though, something as commonplace as regulations pertaining to tire studs—something we Albertans don't really give any thought to—varies a great deal from province to province. In Alberta, there are no restrictions at all on the use of studs, but this isn't necessarily the case elsewhere in Canada. For this reason, if you are planning to drive long distances within Canada while you've got your winter tires on, it's a good idea to know what's allowed where, and when. First, we'll look at a table that gives us the timing restrictions.

Additionally, some provinces have certain specifications around the design and implementation of studs.

Consulting these guidelines would be a good way to prepare for your mid-winter cross-country travels.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Changing your car's air filters

One of the easiest things pertaining to car maintenance that you can perform yourself with great confidence is changing your car's air filters. Few other maintenance tasks are as simple, and the benefits of doing so are noticeable immediately. Having a clean engine air filter is very important for the efficiency of your car. A filter that has a significant accumulation of dirt translates to needlessly lost money for you: it significantly reduces the efficiency of your car. In fact, you can expect to lose over a kilometre per litre of gas when you drive with a dirty engine air filter.

When purchasing a new filter, you will find that you have two choices: paper filters, and oil based filters. Paper filters are quite inexpensive; they can be had for around $15 each. They are also disposable. Once it has served its six month period, a paper filter is to be thrown away. Oil based filters, though more expensive upfront, are actually a great little investment for the respiration of your engine. They last longer, and they can be reused after cleaning so that you don't have to dispose of them so soon. Compared to paper filters, they promote more air circulation which again contributes to your car's fuel efficiency.

If you decide to change your car's enginge filter yourself, you'll need to find out where exactly it is. Your manual should be able to supply you with that information, but generally speaking, you will be able find it very close to the engine itself—either to the right or left of it (sometimes even on top of it) within the hood compartment. It will be fastened in place either with a screw on cap or with clips. To change it, simply unfasten it, remove the old filter, replace it with the new one, and secure the new filter in with the use of the screw on cap or the clips.
Generally speaking, you should plan on having your air filter changed twice a year. If you are uncomfortable with changing your own air filter, you need not worry that it will be costly to outsource. In fact oftentimes, the labour portion of a filter change will be free (so you would only be expected to pay the cost of the filter).

In addition to changing your car's engine air filter, from time to time it is necessary to change the cabin air filters as well. In fact, if there is any type of contaminant residing there, your car's air may actually be polluting your lungs even more than the fumes you would inhale if you were outside of it. Not all cabin filters can be changed at home, though most can. Your manual will tell you whether you are able to change your cabin filter yourself, or whether you'll need to bring it to a technician. Either way, if your car is the vehicle of transport for anyone with respiratory illness, it's a good idea to make sure that your cabin filter is clean at all times.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Protect yourself during risky pastimes

Less than a month ago, Felix Baumgartner was the object of intense curiosity, admiration, and astonishment as he undertook to sky dive from the edge of space, setting the world record for height and speed achieved in this sport. Some of us regard daredevils like this with envy, wondering if we ourselves would ever endeavour to do something so daring, while others of us react by reiterating our contentment with safer pastimes. Whichever side your heart lies on, unless you are an insurance provider, your thoughts about Felix Baumgartner almost certainly did not include “I wonder how much he pays for life insurance?” Since we are insurance providers, that was one of the first thoughts that occurred to us.
Unbeknowst to many people, your hobbies actually can impact your life insurance rate, depending on what they are. This isn't to say that knitters need worry about the implications of a death-by-needles scenario when purchasing a policy. That said, while some of the activities that raise your insurance rates may come as no surprise to you, others may. Here are a few of said activities:

  • Aviation
  • Vehicle racing – cars, bikes, or boats, for example
  • Bungee jumping
  • Cave diving
  • Zip lining
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Parachuting
  • Rock climbing and mountaineering
  • Scuba diving
  • Skiing
  • Skydiving
  • Surfing
  • White water rafting

At this point in your reading, you may be thinking to yourself, “but how would my insurance provider even know? Especially if I only go ballooning once every other year? Do I really have to disclose that?” You know the old adage that says “honesty is the best policy?” we would add that, “honesty is the best policy for your policy.” Failing to mention something like this when purchasing your policy could actually jeopardize your family's ability to claim your life insurance proceeds if you should happen to pass away during a risky activity that was not disclosed at the time the policy was made. Unlike sky diving, that's a whole lot of risk without any thrill.