Protect Your Home from Power Surges This Summer with Surge Protectors

The arrival of summer can mean several welcome events: a return to outdoors living, an opportunity for vacation, and more time with the family. One of the issues people may not associate with summer are the power surges that often occur due to the tremendous demand for energy, especially to cool homes. A power surge is a brief spike in electrical power. While on the surface it may not seem like much to be concerned about, power surges can cause serious damage by burning up electrical circuits inside appliances. They can also damage electrical outlets, light switches, light bulbs, air conditioner components, and even garage door openers.

You can protect your valuable electrical appliances from the damaging effects of power surges. The most cost effective way is by purchasing surge protection strips. You can plug in your television, DVD player, and stereo into the strip and it should provide adequate protection against most surges. It’s a good idea to pick up a surge protection strip for the kitchen counter so that you can protect small electrics like the toaster, blender, food processor etc. You can also find surge protectors that fit into electrical outlets that will protect your phone and answering machine. You can buy most types of surge protectors in any local hardware store.

When it comes to your PC, however, you will have to be a bit more selective about protection, because of the delicacy of its internal components. Back-up power packs that are specifically designed to protect your hardware can be found in stores that sell computer accessories as well as in many electronics chain stores. They can be somewhat expensive, but are certainly less expensive than replacing your entire system.

Before you purchase any surge protector, there are certain features you need to look for. The first feature to look for is a surge protector that is labeled with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo. The UL logo tells you that the unit has been tested to determine if it meets certain standards. Any product that is UL tested will be labeled as a “transient voltage surge protector,” which means that it meets or exceeds the minimum standards required to be an effective deterrent against power surges.

A surge protector’s performance is rated in three ways. The first is clamping voltage, which is the level of voltage surge that has to occur before the surge protector kicks in and diverts excess voltage from the item being protected. You want to find a surge protector that has a low voltage number so that it takes less of a surge to activate it. Look for a protector with a clamping voltage of less than 400 volts.

The second way to rate a surge protector’s performance is response time: the amount of time it takes for the surge protector to respond to the surge. You should look for a unit with a response time of one nanosecond or less.

Just like any other appliance in your home, your surge protector will eventually wear out. The third performance-rating factor is energy absorption, or how much energy the unit will absorb before it fails. For the longest lasting performance, look for a unit rated between 300 and 600 joules. Remember, the higher the number, the longer the life of the surge protector.

Are You Really Covered by Standard Construction Industry Contracts?

The importance of a construction contract should never be underestimated. It literally spells out the entire understanding between the owner and the contractor. The contract is usually comprised of an agreement, drawings, specifications, general and supplemental conditions, addenda, and contract modifications made during the duration of the contract.

Although all of these aspects of the contract are important in their own right, the general conditions section has the greatest impact because it typically contains the most provisions relating to the project’s risks. The correct allocation of risks and responsibilities is a significant factor in determining whether or not a particular contract is a workable contract. That’s because allocating risk appropriately will set the project on a winning course. It fosters positive relationships among the respective parties in the contract because everyone is on the same page. The “us against them” mentality that accompanies an unexpected crisis when there is no contingency plan can be avoided. Eliminating uncertainty about responsibilities makes it possible for contractors to avoid adding cost contingencies in their bids to protect themselves from being caught short. It also allows them to plan ahead for contingencies and schedule them as part of the contract performance. In summary, proper risk allocation will ensure fewer claims, lower costs and enable the project to be completed on time.

Using this risk allocation yardstick, how does the standard construction industry contract measure up in terms of being a good contract? In their favor, standard form contracts have had a stabilizing influence on the way construction projects are transacted. Because the industry is not governed by a cohesive set of regulations, industry associations were forced to develop standard contracts to provide members with guidelines for proceeding expeditiously. Legally, they are considered fair and advantageous, which is why they are used so prevalently.

Because most of these contracts are developed with input from industry participants, they incorporate current customs and best practices. Even when the parties choose to draft their own contract, industry standard forms are used as a reference. Because the standard terms and conditions they contain are familiar to industry members, it substantially reduces drafting and review time, which lowers overall costs. This familiarity with terms and conditions and the understanding of their consequences allows contractors and subcontractors to offer lower bids because there are no surprises when establishing the bid price.

In spite of the effectiveness of the standard form contracts, the American Corporate Counsel Association says they should not be used without taking certain cautions into consideration:

  • Standard forms should not be used without modifications. Since they are drafted for broad applicability, standard form contracts cannot account for all transaction-specific and jurisdiction-specific terms that the parties require.
  • Be wary of the “ripple effect.”Because standard form construction documents often reference other parts of the contract, changes made in one may have repercussions in another. Pay particular attention when changing the definition of a word or term.
  • Do not become “contract complacent.”Read the contract, even if it is a standard form. New projects or circumstances may necessitate a “fresh look” at specific boilerplate language.
  • Custom-drafted and industry-drafted forms do not mix.Industry-drafted forms usually are coordinated only with other industry-drafted forms from the same organization/publisher. Unless the drafter of the custom form has attempted to coordinate the document with the industry-drafted form, chances are they will not be compatible. Industry-drafted forms from different organizations/publishers usually are not compatible.
  • Every contract contains the bias of the drafter. Bias is an inescapable element of any contract. Turn that knowledge into an advantage by knowing both the relative merits and features of and the circumstances under which to use the various standard forms published by different industry organizations.

Safety Tips for SUV Drivers

Considering the increase in fuel costs and environmental awareness, it is surprising that the most popular vehicle in America is still the sport utility vehicle.  With a higher rollover occurrence, higher center of gravity, and increased difficulty of handling, driving a SUV can be dangerous. 

SUVs are completely different from lower-bodied sedans.  They need much more braking distance between themselves and the car in front of them.  They also are much more prone to slip, skid, or flip in hazardous road conditions; according to research done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 10,000 people each year die in SUV rollovers.. By following these basic tips, you will be better informed of how to safely maneuver in a SUV.


  • Slow down. Driving too fast is dangerous; driving too fast in an SUV is even more so.  The longer you have to react, the less likely you are to cause or be involved in an accident.
  • Avoid sudden or sharp steering.  An SUV is not designed to make fast, sharp turns as a smaller, lower, car can.  Allowing yourself more time to react will allow you to make smoother steering transitions.
  • Learn to brake in an SUV. While driving your vehicle, you should be considerate of those around you.  Those behind and beside you will not be able to see around you, so the more warning you can give before you brake, the better. 
  • Check blind spots frequently.  The biggest mistake most SUV drivers make is feeling invincible.  You are in the largest car, but that doesn’t mean you are in the safest.  Many SUV drivers do not use turn signals, or check blind spots, before pulling out or changing lanes, making a collision with a smaller vehicle all the more likely.
  • Avoid overloads. Carrying a great deal of cargo, or even passengers, can throw off the center of gravity even further, making the car more likely to flip over. This also wears on tires and brakes, overheats tires, and can result in a blowout.


Death Never Takes a Holiday from Work-Related Causes

The January 2, 2006 explosion in West Virginia’s Sago Mine is a graphic reminder of how someone can leave for work one morning not knowing whether it will be his or her last. News reports after the tragedy indicated that in the past two years, the mine was given 273 safety violation citations, and almost a third were classified as “significant and substantial” by the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. Numerous citations were for problems that could contribute to accidental explosions or the collapse of mine tunnels.

This tragic scenario of worker fatalities is not all that uncommon, according to a recent report entitled Decent Work-Safe Work prepared by the United Nations International Labor Office. The report concluded that at least 2.2 million people die annually from work-related accidents or illness worldwide. Estimates based on statistics gathered from around the world show a 10 percent increase in worker fatalities from 1998 to 2001, the last year such statistics were collected. Accidents decreased slightly in industrialized countries. However, the number of work-related deaths rose in Asia and other developing nations in such industries as mining, farming and construction.

Researchers cited rapid economic development and increased pressures on business to compete globally as the chief reasons for the significant rise in the number of deaths. On the bright side, the report also noted that businesses around the world are beginning to realize that good safety practices make sound business sense. Not only does a worker fatality affect the worker and his family, it affects the productivity and profitability of the business itself and, over the long-term, diminished productivity and profitability negatively impact society. In other words, the notion of corporate citizenship, or the corporation becoming accountable to society at large for its actions, is beginning to take hold in the minds of the management running companies.

There is still a long way to go before safety and health on the job reaches acceptable levels. The researchers discovered that reporting systems and coverage of occupational safety and health in many developing nations is poor and quite often deteriorating even further. Men are especially vulnerable to dying before age 65 because of accidents, lung disease and work-related cancers. Women, on the other hand, suffer from work-related communicable diseases, psychosocial factors and long-term musculoskeletal disorders. Workers ranging in age from 15 to 24 are less likely to suffer fatal occupational accidents than their older colleagues. Workers aged 55 and older are more likely to die in work related accidents and suffer from bad health.

The Decent Work-Safe Work report concluded with a call to action on international, national, regional and enterprise levels. It emphasized that decent work must be safe work and that occupational safety and health were imperative to maintaining the dignity of all workers.

Simple Tips to Prevent Auto Theft

Every thirty seconds, a vehicle is stolen in the United States.  That means over 1 million vehicle owners each year find themselves victims of auto theft.  In the event your car is stolen, contact the police with the following information immediately: make, model, year, color, license plate number, VIN, approximate time of theft, location, and witnesses, if any. You should know this information, or have it available at all times.  Then, contact your insurance company.  Preventative measures, however, could prevent this tragedy from ever happening.

Some tips to consider:


  • Install an anti-theft device.
  • Never leave the keys in the vehicle, or the vehicle running, while unattended.
  • Keep doors locked at all times, and windows up.
  • Never store valuables or packages in plain sight.
  • Have your VIN etched into windows and other parts of your car, making resell on the black market more difficult.
  • When parking on the street, turn your wheels, use your emergency brake, and park between other cars (making it harder for a thief to tow).
  • Avoid parking in long-term lots if at all possible.
  • Park in a safe, well-lit, or well-traveled area at night.


Is Your Workers’ Compensation Plan a Pork Barrel for Would-be Scammers?

Scamming “the man” can be a favorite pastime among some employees, and one of the best places to run a con is through your workers’ compensation plan.  If you aren’t vigilant, a good scam artist can perpetuate the fraud for a very long time.

The most common garden-variety type of workers’ comp fraud is the phony workplace injury that’s discovered later, when the employee is accidentally caught doing heavy lifting or seen working for another employer while collecting benefits.  Fraudulent claims can also occur when an employee complains of unseen ailments or extends the length of a legitimate claim because he doesn’t want to go back to work.

No matter what form it takes, everyone in the company feels the effects of workers’ comp fraud.  Other employees may have to put in more hours to compensate for the lost productivity, or an employer may have to decrease the percentage of annual raises because of higher workers’ comp premiums.

How can you evaluate the potential for workers’ comp fraud at your company? These are some signals that will alert you to a possible scam in the making:

  • If an employee has an accident shortly after arriving on Monday morning, this can be a sign of a scheme because the injury may have resulted from weekend activities.
  • If an injured worker refuses treatment from a doctor or physical therapist, it could be cause for concern.  Their reluctance to receive treatment could be an attempt to keep a phony injury from being discovered.
  • If a disgruntled employee or one who knows they are about to be laid off files a workers’ comp claim, it may be a ruse to get even with the employer.

Of course, while it is important to be alert to possible fraudulent claims, it is far more important to prevent them from happening in the first place.  According to theCoalition Against Insurance Fraud, there are several things you can do to combat workers’ comp fraud in your company:

  • Verify references and background information carefully.
  • Publicize your workers’ comp policy to all new and current employees, and provide them with updates at least once each year.
  • Spread the word that money paid for fraudulent claims comes out of the employer’s pocket, and can directly impact salary increases for employees.
  • Educate supervisors on workers’ comp issues, including how injuries decrease productivity and how costs affect the bottom line.
  • Display fraud awareness posters and the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s fraud hotline number.
  • Work with your insurer to implement a safety-management program that can eliminate possible safety problems.
  • Be aware of workers’ comp fraud indicators when a claim is made.
  • If you suspect a fraudulent claim and have evidence or witnesses to back up your suspicion, contact your insurer’s special investigations unit immediately.
  • Pay attention to employee complaints and concerns about their working conditions.  The strongest predictor of fraud is a chronically disgruntled work force.

Safety Experts Say Smoke Alarms Are Decreasingly Effective

In early 2006, a federal jury ruled that the design of ionization smoke alarms was defective in a fire that trapped 56-year-old William Hackert Jr. and his 31-year-old daughter Christine in their house near Albany in 2001. However, even before this ruling, safety experts were already questioning whether this type of smoke alarm is adequate to deal with the threat of fast-burning synthetic materials prevalent in American homes.

Ionization alarms, which use radioactive material to detect smoke, react earlier in fast-burning flaming fires. Photoelectric alarms, which detect changes in light patterns, react earlier in slow smoky fires. Experts agree that both types save lives. However, a problem arises because the time needed to escape has shortened significantly because of fast-burning synthetics used in furniture and carpets. Smoke alarm use standards may need to change to accommodate this phenomenon.

In 2001, Consumer Reports recommended that homeowners install at least one of each type of alarm on every level of a house to provide sufficient warning time for different types of fires. A recent report from the Public/Private Fire Safety Council noted that some test escape times were “tight or insufficient” with either alarm for bedroom or living room flaming fires. The group suggested that Underwriters Laboratories (UL) modify its standard to require faster detection of smoldering fires. Current UL smoke alarm standards require alarms to respond within 4 minutes of a flaming fire and in a smoldering fire before smoke obscures visibility by more than 10 percent per foot.

In today’s homes, the synthetics in furnishings, fabrics and carpeting smolder longer, but burn faster than natural materials like wood and cotton, which char as they burn. Synthetics melt and pool which produces significantly more energy when they burn. This has shortened the time between first flames and combustion of an entire room due to accumulated heat and gases to approximately 2 to 4 minutes. The average time between first flames and complete combustion 30 years ago when the UL standard was developed was 12 to 14 minutes.

In February of 2006, UL began studying the smoke characteristics from 40 materials commonly found in homes in the effort to make alarms more effective. Also under study are the byproducts of today’s smoke, which can be lethal. Results of these studies are expected by the end of the year.

Another reason for UL concern is the increase in U.S. fire fatalities in the past 12 months to a rate of about 3,500 annually. One likely factor is the increasing use of candles as mood lighting. Candles now cause about 18,000 fires a year, triple the number five years ago.

Does Size Matter When It Comes to Title VII Sexual Harassment Suits?

The issue of civil rights has always been hotly contested in this country. Heated debates resulted in the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Originally intended to secure the rights of African Americans, it was later amended to safeguard women’s rights.

Title VII of this law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, national origin, gender, or religion. In the late 1970s courts began ruling that it applied to sexual harassment as well. Though Title VII only applies to employers with fifteen or more employees, it is how the definition of employee bears on the case that is the center of the most significant controvery regarding discrimination suits.

Consider the case of Jenifer Arbaugh vs. Y&H Corp. The suit involves an employee of the Moonlight CafГ(c) in New Orleans who alleged she was victimized by a sexually hostile work environment while employed as a bartender and waitress. Y&H Corp., a corporation with two individual owners, owned the Moonlight CafГ(c). The case was tried in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and in 2002, a jury awarded Arbaugh $40,000 in damages.

Y&H Corp filed a motion, arguing the action should be dismissed because the federal court had no jurisdiction as the company had less than 15 employees, which meant Title VII didn’t apply. The methodology they used in determining the number of employees involved excluding the two owners, their wives, who also worked for the business, and their delivery truck drivers.

In 2003, the district court agreed with Y&H Corp and dismissed the case on the grounds of subject matter jurisdiction. That is they agreed that given the number of employees was less than 15, the court had no authority to decide on the case. A year later, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s 2003 decision.

However, Arbaugh made an appeal to the Supreme Court and it began hearing arguments on January 11, 2006. The basis of the appeal is that Section 701(b) of Title VII does, in fact, state that the prohibition against employment discrimination applies to employers with fifteen or more employees. The question is whether this provision also limits the subject matter jurisdiction of the federal courts as was previously decided, or does it only raise an issue about the merits of a Title VII claim? Arbaugh’s attorney argued that the number of employees went to the merits of the case, rather than to the question of whether or not the court had the right to rule.

What stands at the heart of this case is whether the definition of an employee is decided as one of the facts of the case or as determination of the court’s authority. This decision has profound implications for employers. If the definition of an employee is a deciding factor in the court’s right to rule, an employee can postpone raising the question of who are the legitimate employees of the company being sued until after he/she knows the outcome of a trial on the case’s merits. This means a suit of this type can drag on costing the company being sued millions of dollars in legal fees. If the definition of an employee is determined to be part of the merits of the case, than a jury would decide on that factor along with the rest of the case’s merits, which would expedite litigation.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide on this issue as part of their ruling in the Arbaugh case.