Nearly 13,900 PG&E customers in Santa Cruz County woke up today to a dark Monday morning, as the utility shut-off power to over 350k customers in 36 counties beginning Sunday night.This is a preventive/safety measure to reduce the chances of utility equipment sparking a wildfire as the State of CA is experiencing unprecedented strong winds and low humidity levels.
The next time you experience a power disruption, take these steps to protect your home, valuables and family.
Call the power company. Report the outage and any downed lines, and sign up (online) to receive alerts when the power returns.
Check the circuit breakers. Be sure they’re turned to the “on” position so the power will automatically turn on when it’s restored.
Never touch downed lines. They’re deadly.
Use battery-operated flashlights or lanterns. Candles or oil lamps can be fire hazards, so rely on battery-operated light sources.
Stay warm during winter power outages. Bundle in layers, gather your family and pets in one room and shut the doors. You can also use your wood stove as a heat source if it’s clean and functions properly.
Stay cool during summer outages. Dress in lightweight clothing and hang out in the basement. You’ll also want to stay hydrated. If the power outage lasts for an extended time, drive to a mall, movie theater or other cool location.
Preserve food. In general, food will stay safe in the refrigerator for up to four hours and in the freezer for up to 48 hours, but try to avoid opening these appliances. Wrapping these appliances with blankets might provide further insulation and food protection during short outages.
Fill your water jugs if possible. Grab your spare containers and fill them with water to sustain you during the outage.
Turn on the water. Let your spigots drip to prevent freezing water pipes during winter outages.
Unplug major appliances. Your appliances could be damaged by the surge that sometimes occurs when the power comes back on, so unplug all your appliances and electronics except your fridge or freezer. Consider keeping a single lamp or other electric device plugged in so you know when the power is restored.
Use your generator with caution. Only turn on your generator if it’s installed outdoors, properly connected to your home and fueled properly.
Don’t grill indoors. The carbon monoxide could kill you.
Check on your neighbors. Verify that your neighbors are safe, especially if they’re elderly or disabled, and share any water or food with them.
Stock an emergency supply. After the power returns, prepare for the next outage. Stock non-perishable food, water, flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, and pet and baby supplies, if necessary.
Review your homeowners insurance coverage. Your policy may cover food losses, power surge damages, burst pipes, and even hotel expenses that you incur because of a power outage. Contact your insurance agent for more details.
A power outage can occur at any time, so be prepared. These steps help you protect your home and your family.
Whether you are outdoors — on the job or at play this summer — or working indoors in a hot environment, you need to know how to cope with hot and humid conditions that can pose serious dangers to yourhealth that the heat brings.
The human “cooling system” uses perspiration and blood vessels to regulate body temperature. However, when someone is working hard in the heat, especially when it’s also humid, this system can break down, raising the person’s temperature and heart rate. Although people who are past middle age or have health problems are especially vulnerable, the young and healthy can also suffer from heat-related conditions.
Overheating also affects the brain. A temperature hike as little as 2 degrees can impair mental functioning, which makes heat an underlying cause of job accidents, as diminished ability can lead workers to overlook hazards and make mistakes.
In order of seriousness, heat hazards — and their remedies — include:
- Heat rash — Can be irritating: Take a shower and use a little talcum powder.
- Heat stress — Symptoms include thirst, vision problems and/or feeling woozy or tired: Drink a cool, non-alcoholic beverage in a shady place.
- Heat cramp — Involves pain from twitching muscles caused by losing salt from perspiration: Get into the shade and take cool fluids.
- Heat exhaustion — Look for heavy perspiration, fatigue, queasy stomach, and chilly, clammy skin: Put the person in the shade, with their feet slightly elevated, provide a cooling beverage (unless the victim is nauseated), and be prepared to seek medical assistance.
- Heatstroke — Can be a fatal condition, characterized by a lack of sweating, a temperature elevated by up to five degrees, hot skin, mental confusion, and loss of coordination: Call paramedics immediately — and then get the victim to a shaded spot and keep him or her cooling down with cold water sponges or ice packs until help arrives.
To help keep your workers protected from the heat, we’d recommend that you advise them to: (1) Wear sunglasses for protection against exposure to UV rays; (2) Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more to minimize the risk of cancer or sunburn: (3) Keep hydrated with plenty of cool — not cold — water and beverages free of alcohol or caffeine; (4) Minimize exposure to the sun by going indoors or staying in the shade during the heat of the day; and (5) Eat light meals with small servings of fruits and vegetables (which are rich in fluids).
For valuable information on dealing with heat-related issues, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web page, Heat: A Major Killer.
COVID-19 has changed the way we are going to remember this Independence day weekend. Governor Newsom has announced stricter restrictions and closures ahead of the July 4th weekend, including a crackdown on mask wearing violations. Public fireworks have been cancelled in most counties.
However, it is a big holiday weekend and Americans will celebrate, here are some safety tips.
Take Precautions While Grilling
Burgers, hot dogs, fruit and pizza taste delicious when they’re grilled. Grab your favorite side dishes and follow a few precautions that ensure you and your guests grill safely.
- – Always supervise the grill when it’s in use.
- – Never grill indoors or in a fully enclosed area such as a garage or tent.
- – Use lighter fluid sparingly and never after the coals are ignited.
- – Keep children and pets away from the hot grill.
- – Remove flammable objects, including trees, from near the grill.
- – Use long-handled tools to handle food.
Use Fireworks Safely (if allowed)
Public fireworks displays are the safest way to enjoy the beautiful colors and terrific booms of this July 4th tradition, especially when you maintain a distance of at least 500 feet between you and the show. Firework displays at home can be fun though too. If you go that route, take these precautions.
- Follow the instructions on the packaging.
- Never allow children to play with the fireworks.
- Stock a fire extinguisher or water supply nearby.
- Wear eye protection when lighting fireworks.
- Remove flammable materials from the area.
- Never point fireworks toward people, animals, vehicles or structures.
- Properly dispose of duds rather than trying to relight them.
Stay Safe on the Beach (if allowed in your area)
Swimming is a fun summer activity, and it’s good exercise. At the beach, lake, public pool or backyard pool, stay safe with these tips.
- – Swim only in designated areas.
- – Obey the lifeguard and all posted signs.
- – Swim sober.
- – Get out of the water during a storm or if you hear thunder or see lightening.
- – Require children to wear life jackets.
- – Don’t dive into shallow water.
Wear Sun Bathing Protection
Picnics are part of many July 4th celebrations. You should also take these protective measures.
- – Wear sunscreen that’s at least 15 SPF.
- – Remember to apply sunscreen to your ears, hair part and the tops of your feet.
- – Avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV rays are strongest.
- – Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours or more frequently if you’re sweating.
- – Drink plenty of water even if you’re not thirsty.
- – Wear a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves if you have to be in direct sunlight.
- – Watch for signs of heat stroke, including hot, red skin, shallow breathing and rapid, weak pulse.
Please be safe out there, follow the rules and guidelines and have fun.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and your workplace must be safe for employees, vendors and customers. Make time this month to refresh your understanding of sexual harassment as you prevent sexual assault and create a safe work environment.
Define Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment includes any unwanted sexual advances such as offering a work benefit in exchange for sexual favors, inappropriate touching, unwelcome or intimidating behavior, offensive jokes, and inappropriate decor. Federal and state laws prohibit any form of sexual harassment.
Know Your Role
As an employer, you have the responsibility to prevent sexual harassment and create a safe work environment for all employees. A harassment-free work environment improves morale and productivity, and it reduces liability.
Write a Clear Anti-Harassment Policy
Your employee handbook should include a comprehensive anti-harassment policy that outlines:
- The definition of sexual harassment
- Your zero-tolerance policy
- Reporting procedures
- Investigation process
- Disciplinary action
- Anti-retaliation details
Consult your attorney to ensure the policy meets or exceeds federal and state requirements and covers all your bases.
Conduct Frequent Training Sessions
Schedule annual or more frequent training sessions to ensure all your employees understand the definition of sexual harassment, your company’s official policy, how to report it, and ways to prevent it. These trainings should be mandatory for all your employees, including supervisors.
Ensure Leadership Complies with the Zero-Tolerance Policy
All supervisors and managers must comply with your zero-tolerance policy as they prevent sexual harassment. Leaders set the bar for everyone else’s behavior and must be trusted to handle cases appropriately.
You can monitor email and other electronic communications as well as behavior as you look for and stop inappropriate behavior. Encourage your employees to monitor and report inappropriate behavior, too.
Clarify the Reporting Procedure
Despite your efforts, sexual harassment may occur, and you will need to clarify the reporting procedure and empower victims and onlookers to report improper actions. While employees should tell the perpetrator to stop, they should also know who to report to, what information to share and how to report harassment perpetrated by their direct supervisor.
Every employee should know the consequences of sexual harassment. They should also be confident that the consequences will be applied consistently to all employees.
Create a Safe Culture
While you need and want to prevent sexual harassment, the company’s culture should also support your stand. No crude or offensive jokes, inappropriate activities during after-work events or other improper actions should be tolerated, encouraged or allowed.
Your company must be safe for everyone. This April, improve sexual assault awareness and prevent sexual harassment as you follow the law and improve your company and culture.
On Dec. 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, into law, after it passed both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
This tax reform bill, drafted based on a tax reform plan that was developed in consultation with the Trump administration, will make significant changes to the federal tax code. Specifically, the tax reform bill will have a substantial impact on businesses.
For example, it:
- Lowers the corporate tax rate—Beginning in 2018, the bill reduces the corporate tax rate to 21 percent (down from 35 percent) and eliminates the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), in an effort to make American corporations more competitive globally.
- Creates a new tax deduction for small businesses—The bill establishes a new 20 percent tax deduction for all businesses conducted as sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs and S corporations.
- Allows “expensing” of capital investments—The bill allows businesses to immediately write off (or “expense”) the cost of new investments for at least five years.
- Repeals or restrict many existing business deductions and credits—Because the bill substantially reduces the tax rate for all businesses, it also eliminates the existing domestic production (Section 199) deduction, and repeals or restricts numerous other special exclusions and deductions (including those for employer provided transportation and commuting benefits). However, the bill explicitly preserves business credits related to research and development and low-income housing, as well as deductions or exclusions for employer provided dependent care assistance programs (DCAPs), education assistance programs and adoption assistance programs.
- Ends “offshoring” incentives—The bill ends the incentive to offshore jobs and keep foreign profits overseas by exempting them when they are repatriated to the United States. It imposes a one-time, low tax rate on wealth that has already accumulated overseas so there is no tax incentive to keep the money offshore.
- Repeals the individual mandate tax penalty imposed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), effective in 2019.
However, the tax reform bill does not affect the following tax provisions:
- Tax treatment of employer-sponsored health plans; and
- The ACA’s Cadillac tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage.
Scurich Insurance will continue to monitor the tax reform process for any future updates.
On Aug. 31, 2017, a federal judge in Texas struck down the Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2016 overtime rule, stating that the DOL had exceeded its authority by issuing a new salary level requirement for white collar exempt employees.
The DOL is unlikely to appeal this court decision because the ruling does not put into question the DOL’s general authority to set any type of salary limit.
However, the DOL has also signaled its intention to propose a new overtime rule. The DOL has published a request for information (RFI) to invite the public to comment on the issues the DOL should consider before proposing a new overtime rule.
Employers are not required to comply with the 2016 overtime final rule. This ruling ensures that the rule will not take effect. Employers should monitor developments on a new overtime rule proposal.
DOL Rule on White Collar Exemptions
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage and overtime pay protections for many workers in the United States. However, the FLSA exempts certain workers, such as white collar employees, from these protections. The white collar exemptions apply to certain executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, computer and highly compensated employees.
To qualify for the executive, administrative or professional (EAP) exemption, an employee must meet a salary basis test, a salary level test and a duties test. The DOL’s 2016 overtime rule would have increased the required salary level from $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to $913 per week ($47,476 per year). Highly compensated employees (HCEs) must also satisfy the salary basis and duties tests to be considered exempt, but a different salary level applies to them. The DOL rule would have increased the required salary level for highly compensated employees from $100,000 per year to $134,004 per year.
Challenges to the 2016 Overtime Rule
In September 2016, a coalition of 21 states and a number of business groups filed two separate lawsuits challenging the new rule. These two lawsuits were combined in October. On Nov. 16, 2016, the court held a hearing on whether to grant an emergency injunction blocking the implementation of the rule. The judge presiding over the case issued his written ruling granting the injunction on Nov. 22, 2016.
On Aug. 31, 2017, the same federal court struck down the 2016 overtime rule stating that the DOL exceeded its authority when imposing the $913 per week ($47,476 per year) and $134,004 per year salary level limits.
The Future of FLSA Overtime Regulations
On July 26, 2017, the DOL published an RFI regarding the overtime exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales and computer employees. The purpose of the RFI is to gather information from the public before formulating a proposal to amend the FLSA or its regulations.
The RFI does not place any responsibilities on employers. However, any individual or organization interested in responding to the RFI must submit their comments to the DOL by Sept. 25, 2017. The DOL is encouraging individuals and organizations to submit their comments electronically, using the instructions in the Federal eRulemaking Portal.
When submitting a comment, employers should remember that, once submitted, comments are considered public records and will be published without editing. This includes any personal information provided.
Please contact Scurich Insurance for more information regarding current overtime rules, compliance with the FLSA or the RFI on overtime regulations.