Keeping Kids safe: Unsafe Toys 2009; safe toy shopping tips

Every holiday season, child and consumer protection groups offer lists of the year’s most unsafe toys, as well as tips for how to shop for safe toys. If you have kids on your shopping list, take a few minutes to review these valuable guides.
Unsafe Toy List 2009 from U.S.PIRG’s 2009 Toy Safety Report, Trouble In Toyland.
2009 “10 Worst Toy” List from W.A.T.C.H. (nonprofit group World Against Toys Causing Harm
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Division’s Toy Hazard Recalls
There are three main toy safety hazards: Choking, Noise, and Toxins. For children over 3 focus on Noise and Toxic hazards. For children under 3 also avoid choking hazards from small toys, toy parts and balloons. Here’s a handy guide to hazards that you can call up on your mobile phone while shopping: Toy Safety Hazards – you can also report any hazards you encounter in your shopping trips.
Other resources:
Trouble in Toyland (PDF) – PIRG’s 59-page 2009 report on toy safety.
Tips for Toy Safety (PDF) – PIRG’s printable brochure
Toy Safety Shopping Tips – U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Toy Safety – guidelines for toy selection from the National Network for Child Care

Stand by your pan: Thanksgiving is the leading day for fires from cooking

When most people think of Thanksgiving, they think of a nice day languishing over the dinner table with family and friends … or perhaps heading out to catch a local football game. Most people don’t think of it as a particularly risky day – but according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving the leading day for home cooking fires, with roughly 3 times the daily average. On Thanksgiving 2007, U.S. firefighters responded to 1,300 cooking fires.
According to NFPA, cooking equipment was involved in:

  • 40% of all reported home fires
  • 17% of home fire deaths
  • 6% of home civilian injuries
  • 12% of the direct property damage resulting from home fires

More facts about home cooking fires:

  • Unattended cooking was the leading contributing factor in these fires. Something that could catch fire was too close to the equipment ranked second and unintentionally turned on or not turned off ranked third.
  • Ranges accounted for the largest share (59%) of home cooking fire incidents. Ovens accounted for 16%.
  • Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges.
  • In a 1999 study of range fires by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 83% of frying fires began in the first 15 minutes of cooking.
  • Three-fifths of the reported home cooking fire injuries occurred when victims tried to fight the fire themselves. If you have a fire

See more facts about kitchen fires from NFPA
We’ve compiled some best practices when it comes to kitchen safety and fire prevention:

  • Stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling, or broiling food or have food on the stove top. If you are called away, turn off the burner.
  • Never cook while sleepy, intoxicated, or heavily medicated
  • Keep children and pets out of the kitchen
  • Avoid loose clothing while cooking. Roll up sleeves, tie back hair
  • Ensure that cooking utensils and cooking surfaces are clean and grease-free
  • Turn pan handles on the stove top inward
  • Be careful of steam when opening oven doors, uncovering pots, or taking food from the microwave
  • Keep towels, potholders and other combustible materials off and away from the stove
  • Check appliance cords for fraying or for loose plugs
  • Don’t overload electrical circuits with appliances
  • Have non-slip floor mats in front of the stove and the sink
  • Keep spray cans away from the stove
  • Have Class ABC fire extinguishers available and learn how to use them
  • Have first aid kits handy in case of burns
  • If you have a fire in the microwave, keep the door closed and unplug it
  • Never put water on a grease fire. Try covering it with a lid or extinguishing it with baking powder.

More tips on cooking safely and what to do if you have a kitchen fire from NFPA.
Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Crash test: 1959 Chevy Bel Air vs 2009 Chevy Malibu

Wayne Wiersma of Wiersma Insurance found a fascinating video clip that demonstrates just how far highway safety has come over the last 50 years. The test was sponsored by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to commemorate the organization’s 50th anniversary. The test compares crashworthiness then and now: a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and 2009 Chevrolet Malibu in 40 mph frontal offset crash test. The original crash video and photos can be found at the IIHS anniversary page, and we’ve found another clip with commentary from Consumer Reports.

See how your vehicle would fare
Use the Consumer Reports Crash Test Selector to see how your make and model would fare thanks to IIHS crash test videos.
Learn about vehicle ratings, auto safety research, laws and regulations and more at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute website. Both are independent, nonprofit, scientific, and educational organizations dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries, and property damage — from crashes on the nation’s highways.

Insurance issues for U.S. military service members & their families

On this Veteran’s Day 2009, we recognize and salute all U.S. veterans. We appreciate your service to our great country – thank you! For those who would like to show appreciation in a concrete way – why not hire a vet? And we also call your attention to a worthwhile cause that helps to address some of the seriously wounded veterans of recent conflicts: The Wounded Warrior Project provides services and programs to ease the burdens of the most seriously wounded and their families, to aid in the recovery process, and to smooth their transition back to civilian life.
Insurance issues related to the military
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has put together a great resource on insurance issues as they specifically relate to U.S. military service members and their families, noting that insurance coverage can often be affected when someone moves out of state or spends an extended period of time away from home. NAIC suggests that military members talk to their agents before deploying to make arrangements for insurance renewal and payment to ensure that they do not lose important coverage. The site covers life insurance issues specifically as they relate to military service members, including buying tips and red flags for deceptive practices. The site also addresses other types of insurance coverages, including homeowners, rental, auto and health insurance. There are many considerations and issues to discuss with your agent: if your home will be vacant, check to see if your insurer has a vacancy clause that would limit your coverage; find out how your homeowners insurance will cover any possessions you have with you while deployed; and check to see if your auto policy will allow you to suspend some or all of your coverage.
NAIC also suggests that deploying service members may want to consider assigning power of attorney to a spouse, family member, or trusted friend who could act on your behalf in insurance, financial, personal, or legal matters. The site offers a list of links to helpful resources for other sources of benefits and assistance.
Avoiding insurance & investment scams and ID theft targeting military families
Service members and their families are good targets for fraud: they are away from home for extended periods while mobilized in service; families are often transient; paychecks are regular and predictable; and returning service members often have extra cash from combat pay. In TRAPPED! Financial Scams Are Targeting Military Families, Kimberly Lankford of Military Money discusses common scams and offers tips and resources to help you avoid becoming a victim.
To minimize the risk of identity theft while deployed, military members may want to place an “active duty alert” in credit reports. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the alert would require creditors to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. Active duty alerts on your report are effective for one year, unless you request that the alert be removed sooner.
The FTC also encourages service members to file complaints through the Consumer Sentinel Military Network, a secure online database of complaints from the military community. While the FTC doesn’t resolve individual disputes, complaints help the effort to target cases for prosecution, shut down scammers, spot patterns of fraud before they become widespread, and alert the military community to scams.
Workplace issues
Employers need to be aware of their legal obligations to employees on military leave as well as legal obligations to veterans under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). In addition to legal obligations, it’s important for employers to take steps to help service members make the transition back to the workplace. Also, the Insurance Information Institute offers advice on What employers and their insurers need to know about returning veterans. There are many issues that may relate to overall benefits, workers compensation, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Rental car insurance – do you need it?

To buy or not to buy? That is the typical consumer conundrum when renting a car and faced with the issue of insurance. This short podcast from the Insurance Information Institute (III) helps you to understand the choices. Also, see the III article to help you determine if you need separate rental car insurance. III suggests that, before you do anything, check to see what your current auto insurance policy covers – your agent can help you with that, or you can call the insurer directly. Also, check with your credit card company because there may be some insurance benefits associated with your card.