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.