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How To Avoid Burst Pipes This Winter

Winter can be one of the most fun times of the year in Greater Minnesota, with one exception. Frozen pipes in your house are extraordinarily not fun. They can lead to water damage, plumbing bills, and major inconveniences for the whole family. Learn how to avoid burst pipes this winter so that your home will stay warm and dry.

If disaster does strike, do you have sufficient coverage? Lake Region Insurance Agency is here for you. Contact us today for a free insurance review and quote. We’ll make sure your policies cover all of your treasures.

Why Do Pipes Freeze and Burst?

Do you remember experimenting with ice in grade school? Many school kids have proudly displayed a container misshapen by the water frozen within it. 

Water expands as it freezes, and if that occurs inside your home’s pipes, they could break.

Water in the pipe between the faucet and the ice is under increased pressure as the ice pushes forward. If this force is greater than the integrity of the pipe, the pipe will burst

Burst pipes can also happen without freezing. Tree roots, corrosion, and clogs all have the potential to cause a plumbing failure that leaves you with a gigantic mess. 

What You Can Do To Avoid Burst Pipes

Cover your outdoor faucets to avoid burst pipes.

To avoid burst pipes, make sure you are familiar with the plumbing in your home. Inspect your pipes annually, from where they enter your house to where they disappear behind interior walls. 

Seal any gaps or cracks around pipes coming into your home. Your pipes will stay warmer, and your heating bill will thank you. 

If your plumbing travels through an unheated basement, consider adding an auxiliary heater safe for indoor spaces. You don’t need to create a sauna, but you do need to keep some heat around the pipes. About sixty degrees should be warm enough to keep the water flowing. 

If adding heat isn’t a good option for you, you can use heating tape. This flexible silicone tape wraps around your pipes to keep them warm enough to avoid freezing. It’s important to plug it into a GFCI outlet. Don’t use an extension cord for this.

When it is frigid outside, you can help prevent frozen pipes by leaving a couple of faucets dripping. The constant flow of water, even just a slow drip, can help avoid burst pipes.

For plumbing in a cabinet, such as under the sink, leave the cabinet doors open slightly. The heat from the house will circulate better around the pipes to keep them warm. 

When winter is setting in, and you’re buttoning up outdoors, make sure to disconnect your outside hoses. For extra precaution, add an insulated spigot cover at each exterior faucet. 

How To Identify a Frozen Pipe

Poor water flow can be a sign of frozen pipes.

If you’ve noticed something off-kilter about your plumbing but aren‘t sure if you have a frozen pipe, start investigating. Here are the telltale signs of a problem:

  • You will have little to no water flow when you turn on the faucet. 
  • A frozen pipe is likely to have frost on the outside of it.
  • A strange smell coming from the drain can be an indicator of a problem. Ice can partially block the flow of wastewater out of the house. Gases will build up and create a nasty odor.
  • The pipe may be misshapen due to the increased pressure.

If you have a frozen pipe that hasn’t broken yet, you can take careful steps to thaw it:

  • Turn your hairdryer to the lowest setting and gently heat the pipe. Leave the faucet open, so any steam has a path to escape. 
  • Wrap an electric heating pad around the pipe to warm it. 
  • If the pipe is in a location without access to an outlet, try wrapping it in hot, damp towels or a heated rice pack.
  • If you have doubts, hire a professional.

Do not try to thaw the pipe with an open flame or extreme heat. Regardless of the method you choose, do not leave a heat source unattended. 

What To Do If You Have a Burst Pipe

Document all the damage if you have burst pipes.

A burst pipe will pour water like a wide-open faucet. The first thing to do in this situation is to turn off the home’s main water supply. Every person in the house should be familiar with the main water valve. PRO TIP: Be sure to inspect the valve once a year to make sure it isn’t stuck or damaged. 

Once the water is off, open all the faucets and flush the toilets to drain the remaining water.

If you’re handy, you may be able to replace the damaged pipe on your own. If not, contact your favorite plumber.

Make sure to document all the damage for an insurance claim. If possible and safe to do so, get photos or video of the following:

  • The broken pipe or pipes
  • Standing water
  • Damaged furniture and flooring
  • Water stains on walls or the ceiling – Use a tape measure to show the size of the affected areas.
  • Other belongings that sustained damage, such as electronics

How To Clean Up After Water Damage

Once you have your photos and handle the leak, it’s time to address all of the aftermath. And time is of the essence. Water damage can lead to mold and other issues that are harmful to your health.

In the short term, mop up standing water and dry surfaces with towels. Set up fans and open the windows, if possible, to help dry out personal items. You may also rent an industrial fan to work faster.

Your insurance agent will help you handle your claim.

For significant leaks that do tremendous damage, you probably will need to hire a professional team of experts. They will have the tools and know-how to restore your home to pre-flood condition. Your insurance agent can help you find a reputable business. 

Check with your insurance agent before you discard any destroyed items. They are likely to send a team member to take additional photos and gather information for your claim. 

Your agent will walk you through the process to make sure you pay as little as possible out of pocket. Keep them in the loop and reach out with any questions along the way.

Make Sure Your Insurance Has You Covered

Lake Region Insurance Agency can help you take care of your home and all the items in it. Contact us today for a comprehensive policy review to make sure your plans are sufficient. Our agents in Cokato, Willmar, and New London, MN, are ready to help. 

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Your Guide to a Safe Home Office

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of people suddenly to join the work-from-home ranks. And it’s likely that many will continue to do so even after the danger passes. Setting up a safe home office is a top priority for home-based workers, whether they work for themselves or someone else. 

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we know that safety comes partly from your insurance coverage. So we help our customers find the policies they need to protect them at home and elsewhere. Get in touch today for a free insurance review to see how we can assist you.

Safety Considerations in a Home Office

Most people are aware of the health and safety guidelines present in traditional workplace environments. If you work in an office or other business setting, you probably took part in some sort of safety training at one time.  

In your own home, however, it can be easy to take your eye off the ball. The familiar space can allow you to become more comfortable and relaxed, creating a perfect opportunity for an accident. Trips and falls that result in injury are far more common than people often think.

Trips and falls at home are surprisingly common.

Additionally, your employer can have legal repercussions if you are injured, even if the accident takes place in your home. According to OSHA, your employer has a responsibility to ensure your safety by helping you comply with accepted standards. They clarify that this responsibility applies to a workplace “in a designated area in an employee’s home.” 

Ensuring that you are working in a safe home office is not only a benefit for you. It can also be essential for your employer. And if you are self-employed, safety measures are still necessary.

How Can I Set Up a Safe Home Office?

When you prepare your office space, look at your area from the perspective of an employer rather than a homeowner. There are a few crucial areas to consider as you work to ensure a safe home office.

The Environment and Ergonomics

Your workspace needs to be appropriate for your role and the tasks you have to accomplish. If you need to handle any machinery, make sure you have enough room to do so safely. The space should have ample light, be well-ventilated, and provide enough room for you to move around safely.

If you spend hours working at a computer, then a safe home office should include an ergonomic chair and desk. If at all possible, invest in a desk that can raise and lower, as needed. Feet should be flat on the floor when you are sitting, and your arms should be at about a 90-degree angle when typing.

A safe home office includes having an ergonomic chair, desk, and keyboard.

There should also be adequate lighting at your desk so that you can see the screen without needing to squint or strain. Take plenty of breaks from your desk to stretch and move your body. Ideally, you will give yourself a few moments away from the computer about every 30 minutes.

Tripping Hazards

Slips, trips, and falls are surprisingly common causes of injuries suffered in the workplace. This fact holds true even in a home office situation. In fact, your home’s stairs may be one of the biggest hazards to your safety. 

Make sure the floor around your workspace is completely clear and accessible without cords or cables that could cause a fall. Invest in enough storage for products and paperwork so that you do not have things in your way as you walk through your space.

Fire Hazards

A house fire is a significant concern for any homeowner. Fire safety must be a factor when making your plan for a home office. Be sure to include all of these safety tips in your workspace:

  • Keep walkways in your office clear to ensure a quick evacuation.
  • Have a working fire extinguisher in your office. Additional extinguishers should be in the garage and near the kitchen. Learn how to use one.
  • Check that there is a working smoke detector in your office and test it regularly.
  • Know and practice an evacuation plan. This step is critical if your office is not on the ground floor. 
  • Do not smoke or light candles in your home office.

A safe home office should have a functioning fire extinguisher.

Security

Whether you own your own business or work from home for someone else, maintaining a safe home office also includes data security. You must follow best practices for data protection, confidentiality, and customer privacy. It is crucial to have a secure place to store any files and ensure this is only accessible by those with permission.

Your computer will also need protection to maintain the integrity of sensitive data or information. Multi-step authentication and anti-virus software are two vital pieces of home office data safety. 

If you are working for yourself, cyber liability insurance is another critical component to consider. And when working as a remote employee, you still need to adhere to your employer’s requirements and training. Be sure to talk with them about the measures you need to take when working from a home office.

Electrical Hazards

Overloaded electrical circuits can be a major fire risk and could cause an outage that damages your computer or files. Avoid the temptation to use multiple extension cords that could overload your system. If you need to install additional outlets, hire a licensed professional to do the work safely.

A surge protector is essential for protecting your computer equipment. Fuse breakers should have clear labels and be easily accessible. Ensure that you do not have any frayed wires in use and always address electrical concerns right away.

How Can We Help?

The Lake Region independent agents are the friendly experts for your Minnesota insurance needs. We are here to help you find everything you need to protect your home, autos, health, and business. 

With three offices throughout Greater Minnesota, Lake Region Insurance Agency is able to help no matter where you are. Get in touch with the team today for a free insurance review, and make sure that you have sufficient coverage.

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The Importance of a Safety Audit for Your Business

Running and maintaining a business includes the responsibility to keep your employees and workplace safe and secure. A safety audit is an essential process to help you ensure compliance, reduce accidents, and keep everyone safe on-site.

The staff at Lake Region Insurance Agency is here to help you find the right coverage for your business. From liability to workers’ compensation, we offer products that protect you and your company. Call or visit today for a comprehensive insurance review and quote.

What Is a Safety Audit?

A safety audit evaluates your company’s existing safety practices and programs. It systematically assesses the processes you have to determine if there are any gaps in your safety protocols. A safety audit collects data regarding employee training, record-keeping, and workplace processes. 

An audit also can act as a legal buffer if something does go wrong. If you have a workplace accident or injury, proof of consistent safety audits can help mitigate problems. 

An auditor looks at specific areas of a safety program when doing their assessment:

  1. Does it embrace industry best practices and regulatory requirements for compliance?
  2. Is there clear and thorough documentation of safety protocols?
  3. Does employee training happen regularly, and does it empower workers to follow regulations?

A safety audit will look at employee training protocols.

Is This the Same as a Safety Inspection?

A safety audit is not the same as a safety inspection. Facility inspections need to happen more frequently and look for immediate concerns in the workplace. 

A safety inspection focuses on identifying immediate hazards and unsafe practices that may be present in a facility. For example, an inspection may look for dangers such as:

  • Tripping Hazards
  • Fire Safety Concerns
  • Dangerous Substances
  • Incomplete Documentation

So while an audit looks at safety systems for the business as a whole, an inspection looks for immediate and potential concerns.

A Safety Audit Helps Support OSHA Compliance

Fans of the American version of The Office might remember the episode where Michael drives a forklift in the warehouse. He has no training and ends up creating a huge mess and safety problem. 

What is funny on television can put lives in danger in reality. Workplace safety is serious business.

In addition to the impact they have on employees, workplace injuries are also costly to an employer. The private sector has almost three billion non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses each year. This number is staggering, considering how many accidents are preventable.

Office workers need to take safety precautions, too.

Companies must comply with regulations mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Safety audits are a significant part of proving adherence to these rules. Failure to comply can result in fines or even a shutdown of the business.

OSHA compliance officers can show up at a workplace unannounced for an inspection. This may be in response to an employee complaint, repeated insurance claims, or as a follow-up to a previous visit. 

They will look for immediate safety threats, signs of non-compliance, and evidence to support employee concerns. Unless there are catastrophic hazards, the business owner likely will have the opportunity to fix problems before OSHA takes punitive action. 

Consistent safety audits on your part as the owner will help ensure that OSHA doesn’t spot any concerns.

How Often Should I Conduct an Audit?

To truly be useful, a safety audit should happen more than once per year. A regularly-scheduled annual audit may actually be detrimental. 

Knowing that an audit is approaching may cause a sudden escalation in safety measures for that window of time. But then managers relax their standards until the next audit comes around. This behavior does not support workplace safety for employees.

A safety audit helps ensure your staff avoids accidents.

Instead, plan several audits throughout the year so that you can accurately assess your programs and protocols. Depending on the size of your operation, you may want to do a few smaller departmental audits and one business-wide review each year. 

For example, you could do a safety audit on the manufacturing floor at one time. Later you can assess the warehouse and distribution. And at a separate time, review the sales and administrative areas.

How Do I Prepare For A Safety Audit?

First, keep in mind that a safety audit’s purpose is not to penalize you. The goal is to identify the practices and procedures that are working and those that aren’t. Ultimately, an audit serves to keep people safe.

If your staff is following appropriate practices, preparing for an audit shouldn’t be overwhelming. But it may take some time.

Gathering all documentation is one of the most critical pieces. As applicable to your business, the auditor may need to see evidence of:

  • Employee Training
  • Employee Certifications
  • Maintenance of Fire Safety Equipment
  • CPR and First Aid Training
  • Food Handler Training
  • Incident Reports
  • Workers’ Comp Claims

The safety audit team should also review previous audits and any recommended corrections. They need to have access to all regulations at the federal, state, company, and local levels, including documentation and training requirements. 

Safety audits should happen regularly during the year.

Depending on your business, you may have an internal manager who can perform inspections and audits. Or, you might need to hire an outside expert to do the job. And in some instances, you might want to use both options.

In addition to general safety compliance experts, there are also industry-specific people available. For example, the trucking and construction industries may rely on auditors with significant expertise in those sectors.

What Are the Consequences of Skipping an Audit?

Safety audits should be non-negotiable at your workplace. Ignoring this practice makes it far too likely that accidents, illnesses, or injuries will occur. 

And without regular audits, repeat offenses become more common. If your company has too many violations or incidents, you could run the risk of losing your insurance. 

Of course, the most significant consequence of skipping a safety audit is that someone could suffer an injury or even death. There is no way to undo the repercussions of bypassing your audits.

How Can We Help?

Lake Region Insurance Agency has a staff of highly-qualified independent agents. We work hard to protect your hard work.

Your business deserves protection on every level, and we are here to provide it. With team members in New London, Willmar, and Cokato, MN, we can serve you and your business confidently and conveniently. Reach out today to get started.

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8 Ways to Protect Yourself Online

Our society certainly revolves around the internet today. Everything from social media to eCommerce to conducting business online is part of our everyday world now. It’s more important than ever to protect yourself online and keep your data secure. 

Just as the world has evolved into the virtual space, so has insurance. At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we work tirelessly to protect your information. And we offer cyber liability insurance for added security for those who need it.

Connect with one of our independent agents today to see how we can serve you and your insurance needs.

Protect Yourself Online in Every Way Possible

Viruses, malware, and hackers lurk everywhere. So it is wise to make use of the most thorough and reputable protection you can. In addition to paid security options, there are plenty of things you can do that don’t cost a dime. Here are eight ways to protect yourself online without spending extra money. 

1. Make It a Family Affair

Learning how to stay safe online requires education. As children are getting online younger and younger, it’s crucial that you teach them how to stay safe. Some of the essential rules for them to learn include:

  • Never tell their passwords to anyone but you. And make sure you know or have all of their passwords.
  • Never tell anyone online their name or location. 
  • Never send photos of themselves to anyone online. 

Keep children safe online by teaching them basic privacy rules.

Scammers, hackers, and other unsavory predators are extremely good at convincing children to break the rules. Try to keep your child within your sight when they are online.

Your children may not be the only ones vulnerable in this digital era. Your parents or grandparents are also likely targets for scammers. Be sure to help them learn how to stay safe online, as well.

2. Manage Your Passwords Carefully

Password management helps protect you and your assets by working to keep the bad guys at bay. Set a reminder on your phone or in your calendar to change your passwords every few months. At the very least, do this for your banking and credit card sites.

There is a surprising amount of easily-accessible data about you online. And hackers and bots will use that data when trying to guess your passwords. In general, create passwords that meet the following requirements:

  • Minimum of eight characters
  • A mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols
  • A combination of lowercase and uppercase letters
  • No version of your name – This includes first, middle, and last names. 
  • No pet names
  • No portion of your user name
  • No birth dates, anniversaries, or phone numbers
  • No social security numbers
  • Unique passwords for each site

If you struggle to create strong passwords, there are password generators available to help. And to keep them all secure, you can consider using a password manager, as well.

3. You’ve Got Mail

Protect yourself online by paying attention to signs of email scams.

Be cautious of emails you receive from an unknown source. Don’t click on links and never reply with personal information or bank account numbers.

Unfortunately, you must be wary of emails that appear to come from legitimate companies, too, such as Amazon or Apple. Many scams trick people into thinking the email is from a real account. And many of these attempts are very convincing.

No business or bank will ever ask you to send information like your SSN or credit card numbers to them by email. Always log into your accounts to handle any business with those institutions.

4. Be a Cautious Social Butterfly

Social media has become ever-present in our society. Millions of people use it to connect with others and to run their businesses.

But you must keep in mind that nothing you share on social media is truly private. No matter how many security measures are set up, that information is out of your hands once you share it. So be cautious about anything you post publicly.

5. Be Careful with Public Wi-Fi 

Avoid using any computer except your own or your company’s. Public devices do not have the same level of protection in place and carry greater risk. Remember to log out of every online account and web browser you use while on any computer but your own.

Similarly, be cautious when using shared, public Wi-Fi, such as at a coffee shop. Avoid accessing sensitive accounts when you are not on your home internet.

Be cautious when working on a public Wi-Fi.

Consider setting up two-step authentication for any account that offers it. Although it makes logging in a slightly longer process, it does give you extra protection. This option can help you protect yourself online no matter where you are.

6. Back It Up

Data breaches happen regularly. In 2019, there were more than 2000 events that exposed millions of people’s information.

Backing up your information to at least one secure location will allow you to retrieve your data. For some people, using an external hard drive might be enough. But most people also use a cloud storage system, such as Google. Many data storage providers have redundant security measures to keep your back-up safe.

7. Don’t Ignore the Operating System Updates

Your operating system often offers updates that may seem time-consuming. And you may not even notice any difference after an update. While this may feel like a waste of time, updating your operating system regularly is vital to your data security.

Updates frequently include measures to boost the capability of your malware and firewall. These systems need to remain up-to-date to protect your data from viruses and other attacks.

8. Pay Attention to Your Business Security

Cyber liability insurance helps you protect your business.

If you own a business, cybersecurity takes on a new level of necessity. Because you are working with other people’s data, you carry additional liability for its safety. Make sure you do everything possible to protect your clients’ and customers’ information.

Talk with your agent about purchasing cyber liability insurance to add more protection to your business. 

Protect Everything Possible

The extra steps you take in our digital world to protect yourself online can spare you heartache and financial catastrophe. Purchasing sufficient insurance coverage is another way to make sure you, your family, and your business have the protection you need. 

Contact Lake Region Insurance Agency at any of our three Greater Minnesota offices for a free review. Our independent agents are here to serve you in Cokato, New London, and Willmar, MN.