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Business Protection Bulletin

Building Valuation: Closing the ‘Underinsurance Gap’

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When settling Building Insurance claims, it can be tough to determine the real cost of replacing or restoring damaged property. Unfortunately, the methods that policyholders, insurance companies, and agents usually use to set the right amount of coverage all have their weaknesses; according to insurance experts, this means some buildings might be underinsured by up to 40%!

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Basing the amount of coverage on the purchase price of a building doesn’t factor in possibly significant changes in the value of the location. The same problem applies with using real estate appraisals, which are based on the sale price.

Although setting coverage by estimating square footage and material costs can be fairly accurate, these methods depend on the validity of the data plugged into the formulas. What’s more, changes in zoning or building regulations can have a significant impact of the value of the building.

As a construction professional, you can’t afford to “guestimate” the cost of building repair or restoration after a loss. For example, you probably have a strong grasp of arcane and complex zoning and building ordinances in your everyday work.

We’d be happy to provide a complimentary review of the valuation of your buildings for coverage purposes and recommend any needed changes. We can then explore opportunities to improve the accuracy of building valuations for your clients — and ours, so that we can help close that 40% “underinsurance gap.”

Time to Review Your First Aid Kits and Fire Extinguishers

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How many times do you walk by fire extinguishers without checking those tags or past first aid kits without peeking inside to assure the contents are complete?

Most executives do not spot check these life saving tools.  That task is delegated to maintenance.  But these decisions are life and death, not simply profit or loss.  Show your employees you care; that you lead their safety program rather than follow pro forma insurance checklists.

Start your spring cleaning here: walk through your operation and stop occasionally to check if you can easily spot the nearest fire extinguisher.  Read the label.  Is it appropriate for the work area?

Stand at each fire extinguisher station and visualize successful deployment.  Is it easy and natural?  Can you travel unharmed to the nearest fire exit using the fire extinguisher to clear a path?

Observe any long pathways between fire extinguishers and exits.  Would another canister or different fire suppression device or system help?

Take some notes as you walk through the operation.  Review these observations with the person tasked to keep the equipment updated.

Repeat the above exercise with regard to first aid kits.  Are they easy to spot?  Easy to access one-handed?  Do they have instructions for calling emergency help?

These exercises do not require a great deal of time or scheduling.  Simply make a point of checking these items every quarter, something of an internal surprise inspection.

Add ten minutes every three months to your walk-through routine.  It doesn’t need scheduling or ceremony.  Simply observe, become conscious of the emergency response routine.  Are fire exits clogged with storage or debris?  Are aisles kept unobstructed?

Is a specific person charged with de-icing fire escapes?  As you walk through your operations, take notes of these questions.  Think through an emergency evacuation, then review the written plan for your company.  Does it make common sense?  Does it raise questions for your risk manager or safety specialist?

Does your at-hire training include safety orientation and procedures?  How about on-going communications on safety issues?  Both directions?

Corporate officers lead the safety culture.  Make these inspections in view of employees.  They will engage you if they have proper concerns.  They are a great resource.

Ways To Protect Your Electronic Devices In The Office And On The Road

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

When settling Building Insurance claims, it can be tough to determine the real cost of replacing or restoring damaged property. Unfortunately, the methods that policyholders, insurance companies, and agents usually use to set the right amount of coverage all have their weaknesses; according to insurance experts, this means some buildings might be underinsured by up to 40%!

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Basing the amount of coverage on the purchase price of a building doesn’t factor in possibly significant changes in the value of the location. The same problem applies with using real estate appraisals, which are based on the sale price.

Although setting coverage by estimating square footage and material costs can be fairly accurate, these methods depend on the validity of the data plugged into the formulas. What’s more, changes in zoning or building regulations can have a significant impact of the value of the building.

As a construction professional, you can’t afford to “guestimate” the cost of building repair or restoration after a loss. For example, you probably have a strong grasp of arcane and complex zoning and building ordinances in your everyday work.

We’d be happy to provide a complimentary review of the valuation of your buildings for coverage purposes and recommend any needed changes. We can then explore opportunities to improve the accuracy of building valuations for your clients — and ours, so that we can help close that 40% “underinsurance gap.”

Spring Maintenance Tips For Your Commercial Property

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Now that the harsh winter weather has ended, it’s time to spruce up your commercial property. Here are several spring maintenance tips that reduce your liability and prep your property for warmer weather.

Inspect for Water Damage

Melting snow and ice can increase water flow around your property, so carefully inspect the entire building for water damage. Check the exterior foundation, interior walls and windows for moisture, leaks or condensation, and clear out and repair any damaged gutters and downspouts.

Check the Roof

Winter storms can damage your roof, but you may not notice the damage until the roof starts to leak. Perform a detailed inspection of the roof and note any repairs you need to make.

Touch Up the Exterior

Cold winter weather can cause paint to chip, and flying debris can dent siding. Walk around the building, note any damaged paint or siding, and fix the areas. Sometimes, a simple touch up is all that’s needed rather than refinishing the entire building.

Repair the Parking Area

If freezing temperatures created cracks or holes in the parking lot or sidewalks, fix the problem areas. You’ll also want to power wash the area to remove dirt, mud or other debris, repaint any faded lines and repair broken signs. With a clean parking area, you reduce liability and improve visual appeal.

Wash the Windows

Remove winter grime and buildup on the exterior and interior windows. Clean windows boost productivity and improve the appearance of your commercial building.

Boost Ventilation

Open windows and air out the stuffy building if possible. You may also inspect and clean the HVAC system and install fans or dehumidifiers in damp areas as needed.

Improve Curb Appeal

Fallen branches, debris and litter affect your property’s curb appeal and can create hazards for employees and visitors. Remove any debris, and trim trees, shrubs and bushes to reduce hiding places for burglars and future damage risks. Consider planting flowers and grass, too, as you improve your property’s curb appeal and safety.

Perform Pest Control

Warmer temperatures may attract bugs, insects and rodents to your property, so apply a pest spray around the building’s perimeter, and close any holes that may allow animals to enter the building. You may also want to treat any ponds, bird baths or other standing water with Mosquito Dunk or a similar product.

Assess Insurance

Your commercial property insurance protects your company, so schedule an assessment. Ensure you have adequate coverage for your needs as you look forward to the rest of the year.

This spring, you can perform maintenance on your commercial building to improve its appearance and functionality. These tips also reduce your liability and protect your employees and clients.

Common Payroll Mistakes That Cause Liability Concerns

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Completing your payroll in-house allows your company to save money. However, mistakes could increase your liability and jeopardize your business.

Identify common payroll mistakes and then fix them as you protect your company.

Employee Misclassification

Your business may hire non-traditional workers, including freelancers, consultants and independent contractors, to perform a variety of duties. These talented individuals provide an invaluable service as they multiply your workforce while saving your money.

Because you don’t have to pay taxes on independent contractors, you may classify regular employees in this category. You will face hefty fines, though, for this misclassification. Always be careful to label employees and non-traditional workers correctly.

Missing Records on File

For each employee, you must maintain accurate and detailed records. These records prove the identity of your employees and allow you to comply with various federal and state laws.

Ensure you store several documents for each employee, including their employment application, W-4, I-9 and pay stubs. Because guidelines vary, check the applicable laws to ensure you keep the right employment records on file.

Inaccurate Information on Pay Stubs

Data entry requires precision, and it’s easy to get in a hurry or accidentally hit the wrong letter or number on your keyboard. This mistake can cause you to include inaccurate information on pay stubs.

Pay stub inaccuracies can cause costly fines and penalties. Triple check that you have the correct data on each pay stub, including the employees’:

  • Official full name
  • Social Security number
  • Payroll details such as hourly rate and hours worked
  • All taxes, deductions and contributions

Delay Payroll Filing

You spend most of your time operating your small business and handle everything from hiring employees to customer service. Occasionally, you may be too busy to file your company payroll on time.

A delay in payroll filing affects your employees and business. Your employees will express displeasure, resulting in reduced motivation, goodwill and morale. Rushing can also cause you to make expensive mistakes. Plan time each week to prioritize payroll prep to keep your employees happy and to protect your business.

Complete Payroll by Hand

When you do your payroll by hand, you touch each timecard and calculate each salary. The personal touch may be okay when you’re first starting a business, but you could easily make mistakes and will face increasingly complex calculations as your company grows.

Consider automating your payroll process. Numerous reliable options decrease errors, could reduce payroll processing costs by 80 percent and give you more time to focus on running your business.

As you complete payroll for your employees, take care not to make these common mistakes. They increase your liability and could cause expensive fines and other costs.

Maintenance Tips That Protect Your Business Property All Winter

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Inclement weather, high winds and cold temperatures can wreak havoc on your business property and disrupt operations during the winter months.

Take time this month to perform a few maintenance checks that protect your property for the remainder of the winter season.

Roof

Exposure to high winds and heavy snow can damage your roof and cause leaks over time. Ice dams may also form as snow and water melt and refreeze. Carefully remove any snow deposits, then inspect the roof and make needed repairs.

Heating System

Your building’s heating system may seem to work fine, but perform an inspection to ensure it is indeed operating properly. Check for and repair leaks and clean the filters. Verify that the boiler and radiators also continue to function properly, heat evenly and don’t leak as you keep your building warm.

Foundation

Runoff water around your building can erode dirt and damage the foundation. Clear out gutters and downspouts and repair any broken connections to ensure water continues flowing away from your building.

Walls

With temperature fluctuations, your building’s walls may be vulnerable to cracks, and any holes can cause expensive leaks and allow critters to crawl into the walls. Walk around the exterior of your building to identify any problem areas, and then schedule necessary repairs.

Water Pipes

Exposed water pipes can quickly freeze or burst as temperatures plummet. While you probably insulated these pipes in the fall, recheck the insulation to ensure it’s still attached and functioning properly.

Sprinkler System

Your sprinkler system protects your building from a fire but is vulnerable to cold weather. Double check that the system, including hydrants, tanks and connectors, remain properly insulated and functional.

Exterior Lighting

Winter weather may affect the performance of your exterior lighting and cause bulbs to break or fixtures to crack. Replace any broken light bulbs or fixtures as you promote safety for everyone entering your building.

Sidewalks

Cold weather can cause sidewalks to crack, which affects safety. Seal all cracks as you protect your employees, customers and guests.

Entryway

Snow and ice make entryway stairs or ramps slippery, and the salt or ice melter you apply can damage entryway flooring and carpeting. Replace worn, frayed or damaged absorbent mats in the entryway, if necessary, and continue to monitor surfaces so they remain dry and safe.

Cold temperatures and harsh weather can adversely affect your commercial property. Perform these maintenance steps and update your commercial property insurance this month as you prepare for a successful last half of the winter season.

What To Do If You Make A Mistake On Your Small Business Tax Return

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Small business tax return mistakes can vary from simple math miscalculations to huge deduction errors. While the tax preparer you hire will have liability insurance that covers his or her part in any filing mistakes, you must take several steps to correct the mistake and prevent your liability, too.

Amend Your Tax Return

The IRS knows that mistakes can happen, which is why they allow you to amend your tax return. Essentially, this amendment corrects any mistakes.

Find the X Form

To amend your tax return, you need to know the form number of your original return. Then find the X Form. For example, if you filed a Form 1040, look for the 1040-X. Likewise, Form 94X corrects employment taxes, and Forms W-2C and W-3C correct employee earnings and withdrawals.

Complete the X Form

Generally, you will need to print and complete the paper version of the X Form, even if you electronically filed your original tax return. The X Form includes three columns you must complete accurately.

  • Column A – amounts from the original return
  • Column B – net increase or decrease of the original amounts
  • Column C – corrected amounts

Additionally, explain the changes on the back of the form. Be thorough and accurate as you share your reasons for amending your tax return.

Include Related Forms or Schedules

Your tax return amendment may also change information on the other forms and schedules you filed. Complete corrected versions of these forms and schedules, and attach them to the amended X Form. If you forget to submit all these papers together, you will experience a processing delay.

File the Amended Form

After you complete the X Form with accurate information, mail it to the IRS. It usually takes a minimum of eight to 12 weeks for the IRS to process amended small business tax returns.

Pay Penalties

While you do want to amend your tax return and correct mistakes, realize that you may also owe penalties. Interest typically accumulates from the due date of your original return. Pay any tax you owe as soon as possible to decrease penalties.

File an Amendment as Soon as Possible

You may file an amended tax return up to three years after you filed the original return. Because your fees, penalties and interest charges increase the longer you wait, file any required amendments as soon as you realize the mistake.

When you notice a mistake on your small business tax return, you may take several steps to correct it. Take these steps as soon as possible to reduce your financial liability and protect your business.

When To Contact Your Commercial Insurance Agent

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Your commercial insurance policies protect your business, making your insurance agent an essential resource for your company. While you may not have your agent on speed dial, you will want to contact him or her in several circumstances.

Verify Coverage Details

You can purchase a variety of different policies for your business, and need to understand your exact coverage. Contact your insurance agent to verify which types of coverage you have and your policy limits.

Update Your Policy

When you add a vehicle to your commercial fleet, sell a piece of equipment, move to a new location, or make other changes to your business operations, call your insurance agent. These updates could affect your insurance needs, policy and premium.

File A Claim

If you need to file an insurance claim, contact your agent immediately. You may call the agent’s office, send an email or text, or fill out an online claim form on the company’s website. Remember to submit pictures, too, as you get your claim process started.

Ask Questions About a Claim

After you file an insurance claim, you may have questions about the adjuster’s findings or the settlement timeline. Feel free to contact your agent and ask any questions you may have.

Discuss Your Bill

Whether you pay your insurance bill annually, semi-annually or quarterly, you may inspect your bill and realize that you have questions about one of the charges or fees. Most insurance agents remain transparent about billing, and they can explain anything you don’t understand about your insurance charges, fees or payment date.

Pay Your Bill

If you experience any issues when you pay your insurance bill, call your agent. You may also ask for a change in the policy due date or a change in payment frequency.

Initiate an Annual Review

You should receive a notice a few weeks before your commercial insurance policy’s renewal date. Ask your agent for a meeting to renew your coverage. During this meeting, discuss details about your business and the types of insurance you need, including coverage limits and cost, as you verify that you have the right insurance for your needs.

Request a New Quote

Based on your insurance policies you purchase and your loyalty to your commercial insurance company, you may qualify for discounts or a more competitive rate. Your agent can rework your coverage limits, check for discounts and give you a new quote that meets your budget.

Throughout the year, you may wish to contact your commercial insurance agent for several reasons. Always feel free to reach out and discuss your needs as you purchase the right coverage for your business.

DON’T LET DRIVERS USE THEIR CELL PHONES!

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A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 69% of U.S. drivers talked on their cell phones – and 31% read or sent text messages or e-mails while driving. “The cell phone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive,” warns CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

Using cell phones to text behind the wheel can increase the danger of fatal crashes by six to 23 times, and drivers using hand-held devices are four times more likely to become involved in crashes serious enough to injure themselves.

You probably have rules about employees talking on their phones and texting while driving – but are they following them?

According to Jim Evans, president of human resources consulting firm JK Evans & Associates, some bosses turn a blind eye to cell phone use behind the wheel, while others don’t want to cut into their employees’ productivity. His advice to employers: “Dust off the old cell phone policy or unwritten practices and revisit whether employee safety and employer liability is at risk.”

To minimize this danger, your company should require employees who drive on the job to:

  • Turn off personal phones or switch them to silent mode before entering a company vehicle.
  • Pull over to a safe area if they need to make a cell phone call or send or answer a text message.
  • Ask a helper or another passenger to make a return call.
  • Contact supervisors or dispatchers when the vehicle is parked.
  • Avoid smoking, eating, drinking, reading, and any other activities that distract them behind the wheel.
  • Tell people who call them while driving that they’ll call back after reaching their destination.

 

Lessons from the Recent Major Computer Hacks

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Recent computer crimes involving hacking major department stores, governments, banks, healthcare providers, credit card companies, even motion picture studios suggest no system is safe from cyber-attacks.

How can we risk manage this threat?

Updating computer systems can be tricky and often exposes data normally kept safe behind firewalls. When components are switched out, oftentimes doors are left open for outsiders to intrude.

For example, when you must lower your own firewall, be sure you’ve changed the factory provided password to the next firewall. Check your fundamentals. Implement strict protocols for employees to change any aspect, hardware or software, of their company computers. Centralize this function if possible.

Train employees to recognize phishing scams. Do not relay log-in information or passwords in response to an email. If an email seems poorly worded with misspellings, it probably did not originate from a major corporation.

Change passwords regularly. Request all systems users to change their passwords often. The company can protect passwords through thorough hashing and encrypting.

The company should back up all encryption software and password information.

Completing all possible due diligence helps move the criminals to an easier target, but determined hackers can find ways in. So, how does a risk manager deal with one of the fastest growing liability risks for companies?

First, understand the magnitude of the risk. For each client record exposed through your company website, your company will provide a year of identity theft protection and cyber security. At a reasonable $150 per account, you gasp at the 1,000,000 customer accounts like the large chains or credit card companies exposed to loss.

These claims are becoming more frequent, and more severe. The only risk management answer is transferring the risk, and most likely through insurance. What limit is safe? Depending upon your data base from outside your company, customer data, supplier data, bank information, and things you can’t remember, like old accounts, these claims can bankrupt companies and destroy reputations if an inadequate response is offered.

Consider that $150 per account. How many will you likely lose in a cyber-attack? Talk to your insurance agent and find the best fitting plan. It’s worth the conversation.