Posted in be prepared for emergencies, BE SAFE, Holiday Safety, Safety at Home, Uncategorized

All About Holiday Safety

Cartoon Santa Claus thief is stealing a house at christmasWith so much to do during the holidays, it can be easy to forget that safety should remain a primary concern at home, at work and on the job. My wife and JR and I have got a lot going on all year long. The holidays are hardly the time to turn a blind eye to safety:

  • One of every three home Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems.
  • A heat source too close to trees causes one in every four of Christmas tree fires.
  • December is the peak month for home candle fires.
  • One out of three candle fires originate in the bedroom. This is why we never use candles in our dog house.
  • Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.
  • In the United States, motor vehicle crashes are in the top 10 causes of death for people aged 1-54, and more than 30,000 people are killed in crashes each year.

As a courtesy to our subscribers and friends, we have assembled some easy tips to help you and yours make this holiday season a safe and happy one.

Cartoon Santa Claus having an electric shock accident at christmDecorations

  • Don’t use lit candles near trees, boughs, curtains/drapes, or with any other potentially flammable item. In fact, why use the kind that burn when nice, safe electronic versions are available?
  • When using artificial snow on windows or other surfaces, follow directions. These sprays can irritate lungs if they are inhaled.
  • Many holiday plants are poisonous if ingested. These include: mistletoe, holly berries, Jerusalem cherry and amaryllis. Keep these plants out of children’s reach.
  • When displaying a tree, cut off about two inches off the trunk and put the tree in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Keep the stand filled with water so the tree does not dry out quickly. This is especially important if you have a dog in the house; we like tree water.
  • Position trees away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources. Make sure the tree does not impede foot traffic.
  • Avoid placing breakable ornaments where small children or pets can reach them.
  • If you opt for an artificial tree, choose one that is tested and labeled as fire resistant. Artificial trees with built-in electrical systems should have the “Underwriters Laboratory” (UL) label.
  • Use indoor lights indoors and outdoor lights only outdoors. Look for the UL label. Check lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, and loose connections. Replace or repair any damaged light sets.
  • Use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord. Extension cords should be placed against the wall to avoid tripping hazards.
  • Inspect all lights, decorations and extension cords for damage before using.
  • Don’t ever run cords under rugs, around furniture legs or across doorways.
  • Turn off tree lights and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house. Unplug extension cords when not in use.
  • When displaying outdoor lights, fasten them firmly to a secure support with insulated staples or hooks to avoid wind damage.
  • Never nail, tack or stress wiring when hanging lights and keep plugs off the ground away from puddles and snow.
  • Don’t leave candles unattended. Whenever possible, opt for electronic versions, which provide a warm glow without the associated risk of fire.

Little girl making Christmas cookiesFood

  • Never eat dough or uncooked batter. This one is hard for me. I like dough more than the baked version of most treats.
  • When preparing a holiday meal for friends and family, be sure to wash your hands, utensils, sink, and anything else that touches raw poultry.
  • Don’t defrost food at room temperature. Instead, thaw it in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.
  • Keep your knives sharp. Most knife injuries occur due to dull blades.
  • Use a clean food thermometer to cook foods to a safe internal temperature before serving.
  • Avoid cleaning kitchen surfaces with wet dishcloths or sponges, which harbor bacteria. Use paper towels, instead.
  • Keep cold foods cold and hot food hot. If you’re concerned that your coworker’s casserole has been sitting out too long, move along. Better to be food-safe than sorry.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in covered shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Or, better yet, give them to your pooch. We love leftovers.
  • When reheating leftovers, bring to at least 165°F to eliminate bacterial growth.

VehiclesCouple with suitcases.

Custom 3d illustration contact me!

  • Check items such as the brakes, spark plugs, battery, and tires. Check your owner’s manual and follow recommendations for tune-up and oil change intervals.
  • Before heading out on winter roads, evaluate the condition of your tires. When in doubt, take your vehicle to a mechanic to make sure tread is sufficient.
  • Be prepared for emergency situations on the road by keeping a winter “survival kit” in your trunk. Include items such as a working flashlight, extra batteries, reflective triangles, compass, first aid kit, exterior windshield cleaner, ice scraper, snow brush, wooden stick matches in a waterproof container, and non-perishable, high energy foods like unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits and hard candy.
  • Keep anything of value in the trunk or covered storage area.
  • But that doesn’t apply to your canines.

Remember that safety is a priority for everyone all year long. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Allied Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

Visit www.AUS.com/tips for more ways to stay safe during the holidays.

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Posted in be prepared for emergencies, BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, Holiday Safety, Safety at Home, Uncategorized

 Summer Water Safety Tips

Dog In A Blue KayakAccording to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), about 10 people die from unintentionally drowning each day in the United States. In fact, drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional death for people of all ages, and is the second leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 14 years in the nation. Globally, the statistics provided by the World Health Organization are scarier yet, with more than 40 people dying by drowning every hour of every day! But the good news is that accidental drownings are preventable as long as you observe a few safety guidelines whenever you are in or around water this summer. Although it probably won’t win you any points for style, the doggie paddle is a great way to stay safe in water.

Wherever you choose to vacation this summer, #BeSafe and #SafeForLife:Fotolia_112188044_XS

  1. Steady on your feet (or paws). Even if you opt for a “stay-cation” this year, be careful not just in, but around water. This includes areas adjacent to man-made water sources such as the wooden decking around Jacuzzis and spas as well as slick surfaces like freshly watered lawns or pool decks. Slip-and-fall accidents account for a myriad of serious and even life-threatening injuries each year, especially among senior citizens. So instruct children to walk instead of run and help elderly people when they are walking in slippery areas.
  2. Easy does it. Alcohol and water do not mix. If and when you choose to indulge over the summer, do so when you are clear of water-related dangers. The American Boating Association reports that almost half of all boating accidents involve alcohol. So an easy way to reduce your risk of a boating accident is to stay sober whenever you get behind the water wheel. I’m a teetotaler, myself.
  3. Start early. Teach children water safety and swimming skills as early as possible. Even babies can learn basic water survival techniques. Be sure to include swimming lessons in your summer routine. And whenever young kids are around a pool, watch them like a hawk and brief babysitters about the necessity of providing constant supervision around water. My wife and I let JR learn to swim when he was a wee pup. He loves the water.
  4. summer timeMake rescue easy. If you have an above-ground or in-ground pool, live near a dock or have a hot tub, post CPR instructions near the water. Also, learn emergency lifesaving procedures so you can provide aid when necessary, while waiting for first responders. Also, make sure a phone is always on hand whenever anyone is in the water. And stow rescue equipment as close to the water as possible. When it comes to drowning, every second counts.
  5. Discourage accidents. Install proper barriers, covers and alarms on and around your pool and spa. Also, teach your kids to stay away from drains. Tips at Gov point out that children’s hair, limbs, jewelry or bathing suits could potentially get stuck in a drain or suction opening. Also, make sure that all pools and spas (including those in backyards as well as in public areas) have compliant drain covers. And if your pool is not covered, remove bright colored toys or flotation devices from the surface, since these attract curious kids

Be sure to think about ways to #BeSafe all of the time, not just when you are enjoying the water. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

Posted in be prepared for emergencies, BE SAFE, Burns, Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety, Fires, Health & Welfare, Holiday Safety, Uncategorized

Holiday Kitchen Safety

niño cocineroCooking a big meal for the holidays is a joyous event, as you can pour your love and expertise into every bite. But to keep loved ones safe, make sure you are careful in the kitchen. Our first tip? Slow down. Despite the frenetic pace modeled on cooking competition shows, it’s always best to pace yourself while cooking. I like to pace myself during the holiday season. I go from kibble, to nap, to crumb searching, back to nap. Professional chefs work quickly, but they also watch out for one another and take steps to follow basic safety protocols.

Avoid Foodborne Illnesses

Fotolia_82270779_XSAs disheartening as it is, in terms of bacteria, home kitchens are typically more bacteria-ridden than public restrooms. And some people call dogs filthy? The good news is that if steps are taken to follow sanitary practices, you can guard against hosting a houseful of sick holiday guests.

  • Wash utensils thoroughly. The dishwasher is the best method for washing, as it utilizes too-hot-to-handle water and vigorous rinsing. I recommend leaving the dishwasher open for a bit so I can do an “inspection.” I just want a quick lick! If you must hand wash items that have come into contact with raw meat or eggs, use gloves, so you can handle hot water without burning yourself, apply lots of soap, and thoroughly everything, to dispense with soap residue.
  • Prevent cross contamination by using separate cutting boards for meat and veggies and fruit. Several manufacturers offer color-coded cutting boards for just this reason.
  • User paper towels to remove juice from meat and raw eggs. Avoid using cloth towels, which can harbor bacteria. I won’t even eat uncooked meat for safety reasons. But “medium rare?” I’m all over it!
  • Marinate and defrost foods in the refrigerator instead of on top of the kitchen counter or in the sink.

Illustration of cooking pan with firePrevent Kitchen Fires

  • Much of the risk of kitchen fires can be avoided if cooks focus on the task at hand. Do not leave items on the stove and then leave to fold laundry or watch TV (or zone out on your phone – silly humans.) Instead, remain in the kitchen so you can quickly control flare-ups. Remove clutter. If you are cooking an elaborate meal, you want to clean up as you go to keep your work space clutter free. Towels or wooden utensils frequently meet burners, so keep a “clear zone” around the range top and oven.
  • Thoroughly lean cooking surfaces to prevent high-fat food residue buildup, which can be flammable.
  • Be careful if you are frying foods. Remember that water and hot oil are incompatible. So don’t put frozen foods into hot oil. You CAN, however, put frozen corn dogs directly into the dog’s bowl. (Just a suggestion.)
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen to put out fires before they get out of control. Make sure you are using the right type of extinguisher for the fire you are battling.

Additional tips for holidays kitchen safety:

  • Watch the kids. Keep children out of the kitchen during meal preparation (and out of the doghouse!) While you might be able to supervise kids in less hectic times, crowded kitchens and lots of activity can lead to accident. So save culinary lessons for after the holidays. Also, keeping children away from meal preparation will prevent curious little hands from pulling on pot handles.
  • Clean up spills. A slippery floor is a major hazard in the kitchen, since people often carry sharp knives and boiling water. So immediately wipe spills until surfaces are completely dry. I know Fido and Rufus want to lick up the spills, but this is one instance where I say you should not let every dog have his day.
  • Use knives properly. There is a proper way to chop different types of foods, which can prevent the loss of a fingertip and a trip to the ER on Christmas Day. In addition, remember that, as counter intuitive as it sounds, it is safer to use a razor sharp knife than a dull blade.
  • Steam burns. Some foods, such as instant rice and veggies, now come in convenient plastic microwaveable packets. If you decide to use these, make sure to open away from your face.

The holidays are a busy time. Adding several relatives and planning big elaborate meals challenge even the most organized host. So follow these kitchen safety practices to ensure everyone has a happy and safe holiday season. Go into the kitchen now and give your dog gravy.  (Did my “Jedi mind trick” work?)

Remember that safety is a daily priority, so be sure to think safety all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

Posted in be prepared for emergencies, Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety, Holiday Gift Ideas, Holiday Safety, Safety at Home

Be Safe this Holiday Season

Our guest blogger, Angela Burrell, Public Relations Manager for our corporate company, Universal Services of America

This post has been adapted from a blog written by Angela Burrell, Public Relations’ Manager of our corporate company, Universal Services of America. Her unaltered version first appeared on December 14, 2015. Many thanks to Angela, for sharing her blog about holiday safety.


 

Santa Claus cartoon scene trying to control fire in fireplaceOur wish for you is that you will keep the following safety and security tips in mind as you celebrate the holiday season. Share them with family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and building occupants to let them know you care. #BeSafe and Happy Holidays!

Nine Smart Shopping Tips 

  1. Park close to your destination, in a well-lit area and lock packages in the trunk, out of sight.
  2. Carry your purse close to your body and stow your wallet inside a zippered pocket.
  3. Report any suspicious activity or unattended packages to store/mall security or law enforcement.
  4. Stay vigilant this holiday season. Be aware of your surroundings: “If You See Something, Say Something.”
  5. Pay by credit card, rather than check/debit card, to reduce the risk of funds being taken from your bank account. Keep all receipts and compare them to your monthly statements.
  6. Avoid being overcharged; review your receipt if you pay by debit, to ensure that the transaction is correct. Seems like a good idea even when it’s not the holidays! 
  7. Keep your car key handy and lock your doors as soon as you get inside your vehicle.
  8. Shop online at home with known businesses. Avoid shopping online through pop-up ads as they may be phishing scams or contain malware.
  9. Conduct transactions on a secure server only; look for the padlock device on the browser’s status bar. The URL should change from http to shttp or https when asked for payment information, which indicates that the purchase is encrypted or otherwise secure. 
Report suspicious persons.
Report suspicious persons.

Eight Workplace Alerts 

  1. Report all solicitors or suspicious persons to security immediately. (The guy in this photo, at right, looks alarmingly suspicious to me. I wonder if all bad guys look the part? Probably not.)
  2. Be suspicious of unfamiliar people claiming to be repair persons, as thieves are apt to disguise themselves.
  3. Make sure your receptionist and/or security team clears any workers or contractors before allowing them into your office.
  4. Question visitors who wander throughout your offices. Legitimate guests will appreciate your offers of assistance, while potential solicitors or thieves will be deterred.
  5. Lock all personal items in a desk or file cabinet. Employees should never leave purses or wallets exposed where they can easily be stolen.
  6. Draw blinds after hours so that computers and other valuables are not visible from the outside.
  7. Close doors when the office is empty, and secure all valuables in a desk or closet when unattended.
  8. Request a security or buddy escort to your car if you are working late and feel vulnerable. 

Seven Home Safety Guides 

  1. Refresh your holiday lights; consider buying energy-efficient LED types that are cooler than conventional incandescent lights and heed indoor or outdoor use labels.
  2. Point any decorative outdoor laser light devices at your home and not towards the sky. Have you seen those new laser light shows? They are so cool. 
  3. Turn off lights or decorations before bedtime, or set automatic timers for six or eight-hour increments to conserve energy.
  4. Monitor candles and fireplace fires, and extinguish them before leaving the house or bedtime.
  5. Consider installing motion or lighting sensors that turn off automatically when no one is around.
  6. Let strangers who knock know you are home without opening your door. Do not feel compelled to donate to solicitors.
  7. Ask a neighbor to collect your mail or have the post office hold it, if you plan to travel for an extended period.

Christmas outdoor Christmas decorations - Snowman and nutcracker lights up house in Brooklyn, New YorkSix Basic Fire Rules 

  1. Fires peak, particularly in kitchens, during the holidays, so remain alert when preparing meals and keep potholders and food wrappers at least three feet away from heat sources.
  2. Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, ensuring that they work at optimal level year-round. Replace batteries, as needed.
  3. Know where your exits are located and hold regular fire drills that include practicing at least two evacuation routes from every area or building to your safe refuge area.
  4. Notify the property manager about exit lights that are broken or vandalized.
  5. Never prop open self-closing doors, as they are designed to keep flames and smoke from spreading. I don’t have a self-closing door on my doghouse. Maybe it’s time to invest? 
  6. Keep exits and stairways free from obstructions at all times. Don’t store things on or under stairways, or on landings.

Five More Tips and Resources 

  1. The National Fire Protection Association summarizes Christmas tree and holiday lights safety.
  2. Electrical Safety Foundation International’s Holiday Decorating Safety guide lists many resources.
  3. The National Safety Council recommends several Holiday Safety Tips.
  4. Be prepared for more thorough airport security checks by TSA and register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program before traveling outside of the U.S., per recent travel alerts and warnings issued.
  5. Consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recalls and alerts on toys and other products before making purchases.

We hope you enjoy a safe and secure holiday. Please view CDC’s 12 Ways to Health Holiday Song, and #BeSafe! Remember that safety is a daily priority, so be sure to think safety all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

 

Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, Fire Life Safety Training, Fire Safety, Fires, Holiday Safety, Safety at Home

Holiday Toy and Gift Safety

fireplace and fir-tree and christmas socksDecember is National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, so designated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), to raise awareness about potentially hazardous toys. Since toy purchases are at an all-time high during the holidays, we thought it a good idea to highlight the campaign with this week’s blog post.

Part of the CPSC initiatives include third-party testing laboratories which check toys for lead and phthalate limits, so they can identify dangerous toys before they reach consumer shelves. I would love to be a Greenies and rawhide tester! I’d weigh 250 pounds, but my tail would be wagging all of the time! The commission also produces safety alerts. For example, one highlights the choking hazards of plastic film coverings that are on many toys.

children playing together at homeTypes of toys to avoid this holiday season:

  • Scooters and similar riding toys. Since the popular Razor Scooter’s launch in 2000, there has been a sharp increase in ER visits due to falls associated with the toys. Avoid giving these types of toys as gifts, since they lead to numerous serious accidents every year—especially when operated without a helmet. If you do buy a scooter, be sure to include a properly-fitted helmet, as well.
  • Toys with small parts. Pay attention to the warning labels on toy boxes, because they provide guidelines relative to choking hazards as well as age-appropriateness. Lego sets and other similar toys are fun, but they don’t work for toddlers, since the kits come with lots of small choking hazards. In addition, my paws always stomp on those sharp Lego pieces! I nearly lacerated my pad the other day! A good rule of thumb is to place or imagine the toy- part-in-question fitting inside a toilet paper roll. If it fits, then it’s too small.
  • Toys that could cause eye injuries. Toy guns that shoot pellets or Nerf darts are fun, but are a leading cause of injury, with studies showing a significant increase in the eye injuries resulting from toy parts over the past few years. For example, the “Airsoft” brand of guns led to a significant number of injuries and should only be used with eye protection.

Keep little ones safe during the holidays:

Girl with bearThe holiday season is a hectic time, which means adult attention spans can be stretched to the limit. It also brings dogs’ attention into laser sharp focus. That turkey on the table? We have our eyes on it!

Keeping track of babies and toddlers can be especially difficult during family gatherings and other festive events. Here are some tips for protecting your youngest family members at large functions:

  • Dispose of wrapping paper and plastic packaging. Toy packaging contains various types of plastic covers, twist ties, and other bits and pieces. All of these are potential chewing and choking hazard for babies and toddlers. Whenever possible, collect and recycle materials as presents are opened.
  • Keep an eye on the fireplace. Hanukkah nights or Christmas morning are both great times for a cozy fire. But flammable materials should be handled responsibly. Keep them far from flames. And, because kids are curious, be sure your fireplace screen is sturdy. This is also a great time to talk to children about the serious dangers posed by fire.
  • Watch your plants. Mistletoe and holly are poisonous if ingested, so keep toxic plants out of the reach of young children.
  • Be careful with alcoholic beverages. If you and guests are enjoying a few cocktails during a holiday party, take steps to keep drinks out of the hands of anyone under the age of 21. Children imitate parents. So make sure they can’t reach unattended beverages. Ask guests to remove empty and even partially-empty cups. I slurped up a margarita one time. How can people drink this stuff? Give me the sophisticated flavors of toilet bowl water instead!
  • Carefully string Christmas tree lights. Toddlers and babies love the glow of lights. So keep strands high on the tree to make sure they are out of reach of tiny fingers. Glass ornaments are another potential hazard which should be replaced, moved to a higher location or boxed until children are old enough to ensure their safety.

Remember that safety is a daily priority, so be sure to think safety all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

Posted in BE SAFE, Holiday Safety, Safety at Home

Tips for Summer Safety

Summer digital design, vector illustration eps 10

Summertime can be fun. Barbecues, backyard parties, picnics, swimming pools and travel beckon. And so do the smells of grilled meat! But your fun in the sun could be short-lived if you fail to take summertime safety precautions. To help you make the summer of 2015 your best ever, we have compiled some tips to help you avoid potential peril.

Summertime Safety Starts at Home

Whether you plan to enjoy a staycation or leave your house for a short or extended period of time, there are several things to consider, which will keep your home safe this summer. In this three-part series, we will cover ways to protect yourself in the summer whether you plan to leave or stay at home. In the next several blog posts, we will cover safety at home, while traveling, and around water.

This week, we will focus on ways to make your home safe.

  • If you plan to leave for vacation, make copies of all of your important information, so you will have everything on hand. For example, record your credit card account numbers as well as customer service phone numbers in case you notice fraudulent activity on your accounts while you are away from home. Also, don’t forget to pack vital documents such as insurance cards, passports, emergency contacts and health information about your pets.
  • Before you leave, lock every door and window in your home. And, if applicable, call your alarm company to let them know you will be on vacation. This is critical even if your trip is short. According to the FBI, more than half (53%) of home burglaries happen during the day. So homeowners should secure doors and windows every time they leave their home—even if they plan to be gone for only a few hours. Of course, if you have a watchdog, this may not be necessary. I guess you should decide on a case-by-case basis.

    Hello Summer

  • No matter how excited you are to share your travel experiences on social media, resist the urge to post everything on Facebook or Twitter. Thieves have learned to check out social media posts to determine targets of opportunity. When it comes to your house, keep them guessing. That’s the reason I don’t tweet or post about my schedule. Well, that, and because I like to avoid the paparazzi.
  • Don’t leave clues about your absence on your front porch. Nothing says “empty house” more than having stacks of newspapers on the porch or mail hanging out of an overstuffed box. You can avoid both by putting a vacation hold on subscriptions as well as mail.
  • Make your home as unattractive to burglars as possible. Make sure shrubs are well trimmed, so there is nowhere for thieves to hide. Consider installing a security system with cameras to deter would-be robbers.
  • Take steps to make sure your house is as difficult as possible to break into.
    1. Don’t ever hide a key under the mat or above the door.
    2. Use heavy, solid doors with deadbolt locks.
    3. Don’t forget about doors between an attached garage and the house. Purchase and install as heavy duty equipment on it as you do for the front and back doors.
    4. Install poles so windows and sliding glass doors won’t slide.
    5. Light up your house with motion sensors and floodlights. Thieves don’t like to operate on stage. So lighting is an inexpensive way to burglar-proof your home.
    6. Prominently display security signs…even if you don’t subscribe to a security system. The idea is to deter as many would-be thieves as possible.
    7. If you do subscribe to a security system, don’t write your passcode on a post-it and put it next to your keypad. Doing so will defeat the entire purpose of having the system.
    8. Get a guard dog! (Just a friendly firedog suggestion.)

Check back next week, when we will cover personal safety relative to summer travel. We hope this blog post will motivate you to do whatever it takes to #BeSafe. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives.

Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

 

Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Communications, Holiday Safety

How to #BeSafe during Tax Season

taxes 7Since the majority of consumers take advantage of e-filing, tax preparation fraud is at an all-time high. Although your personal information is at risk if you use the Internet at all (because it is basically floating around in Cyberspace), your risk increases exponentially if you fail to practice due diligence when selecting an accounting firm. Beware that nearly anyone can hang a shingle or put up a quick website, offering to inexpensively do your taxes and maximize your refund. I’m glad dogs don’t have to file taxes. Sounds like a big headache!

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen warns taxpayers, “Filing a tax return can be one of the biggest financial transactions of the year, so taxpayers should choose their tax return preparers carefully. Most tax professionals provide top-notch service, but we see bad actors every year that steal from their clients or compromise returns in ways that can severely harm taxpayers.”

taxes 3Since about 60 percent of people file returns prepared by an official agent, reputable tax preparation firms are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. But it is important to note that taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. So make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task. In other words, you won’t be able to blame your tax preparer if your forms are messed up. So pay attention, people!

If you plan to hire someone to file for you, minimize your risk of fraud, by applying these 10 tips when choosing a tax preparer:

1. Make sure your preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Anyone with a valid 2015 PTIN is authorized to prepare federal tax returns. Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN with your completed return.

2, Ask to see credentials. Although professional certification is not necessary, your preparer should be either an enrolled agent, certified public accountant, attorney, belong to a professional organization, or attend continuing education classes. A number of tax law changes, including the Affordable Care Act provisions, can be complex. So only a competent tax professional will be up-to-date in such matters. Tax law is complicated. So it makes sense to hire someone who knows what they are doing.

3, Check about service fees upfront. Avoid preparers who base theirs fee on a percentage of your refund. Also, steer clear of anyone who says they can get you a larger refund than others. If your taxes are prepared properly and honestly, your refund will be the same no matter who prepares it. Although I’m glad I don’t have to file taxes, I wish I could somehow qualify for a refund. Then I could get more doggie treats!

4, Designate refunds to be sent to you or deposited directly into your bank account. Don’t allow funds to be deposited into a preparer’s bank account. Or, if you prefer, send them straight to me.

Tax deadline5. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file and request your return be submitted to the IRS electronically. Doing so is the safest and most accurate way to file a return, whether you do it alone or pay someone to prepare and file for you.

6. Make sure the preparer will be available in case you have questions. You should be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date. In other words, avoid fly-by-night places that pop up and close down right after the tax deadline.

7. Provide records and receipts. Qualified preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They will also ask questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not rely on a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2, which is against IRS e-file rules.

8. Don’t sign an incomplete or blank return. This seems pretty basic. But you might be surprised.

9. Review your return before signing. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.

10. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax return preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer, which is available at IRS.gov.

To find other tips about choosing a preparer, better understand the differences in credentials and qualifications, and learn how to submit a complaint regarding a tax return preparer, visit Irs.gov/ChooseATaxPro.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to be safe during tax time and all year long. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted in Holiday Gift Ideas, Holiday Safety

How to #BeSafe this Holiday Season

Part 3 of a 3-part series

Firedog Holiday TravelTo date, our series has covered safety relative to choosing, displaying and decorating Christmas trees, working with wrapping paper, and guidelines for being safe at work and home. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned a lot about how to #BeSafe during the holidays! This week, we will conclude our three-part series by focusing on travel, shopping and food safety. Our thanks to Universal Services of America, Food Safety.Gov, Web MD, TSA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, for contributing to our holiday safety series.

Holiday Travel Safety

  • Drive slowly when visibility is reduced. It’s better to arrive alive even if you get to your destination a bit late.
  • If you’re flying, prepare for crowds. Arrive at the airport in plenty of time, so you won’t be bothered by long lines. I wonder if Snoopy has to deal with this when he’s battling the Red Baron.
  • If you notice an item that has been left unattended, alert airport security. Don’t ever agree to watch luggage for someone you don’t know.
  • For instant access to TSA information anywhere, anytime, use the MyTSA app.

Firedog Holiday Shopping SafetyHoliday Shopping Safety

  • If you choose to shop online, do so only with well-known businesses. Research websites for legitimacy and track record. Since I don’t have opposable thumbs, online shopping is difficult for me. I guess that’s a good thing.
  • Conduct transactions on a secure server only. Look for the padlock device on the browser’s status bar. URLs should change from http to shttp or https when you begin checking out online. To confirm the site you are using is secure, make sure the page is encrypted before you enter payment information.
  • At the mall, park close to your destination, in a well-lit area. Take note of where you park, so you won’t get lost.
  • Don’t carry multiple bags as you walk around the mall. This could attract thieves who could follow you back to your car. If your packages become cumbersome, it’s time to head to the car to drop them off. When you get to your vehicle, lock packages in the trunk, out of sight.
  • As you shop, carry your purse close to your body and/or stow your wallet inside a zippered pocket. I don’t carry a purse. But my wife does. I guess I should pass this info onto her.
  • Report suspicious activity and/or unattended packages to store/mall security or law enforcement.
  • Pay by credit card, rather than check/debit card, to reduce the risk of having fraudulent purchases made against your bank account. Although most such funds are refundable, depending on your financial institution, your money could be tied up far longer than might be convenient…especially during the holidays.
  • To make sure all debit and credit card charges are legitimate, keep receipts and compare them to your monthly bank and/or credit card statement.
  • Avoid being overcharged. Review your receipt regardless of your method of payment.
  • Keep car keys handy.
  • Lock your doors as soon as you get inside the vehicle. 

Firedog Holiday Safety FoodHoliday Food Safety

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food.
  • Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. As much as I would like to advise having the dog lick your plates clean, washing them in soapy water would admittedly be far more hygienic.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water.
  • Use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking in order to avoid spreading bacteria to areas around the sink and countertops.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
  • Don’t eat uncooked cookie dough. It may contain raw eggs, which can harbor salmonella.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave—never at room temperature.
  • As a general rule of thumb, leftovers should be used within three to four days, unless frozen. After four days, you could always give leftover meat to the family pet. Just a suggestion. J
  • For fire safety, keep flammable materials far from open flames. Fire safety is important. So try to remain focused even in the midst of holiday stress.

We hope that this blog series has helped inform you about ways to #BESAFE this holiday season and always, by taking necessary steps to improve your health and safety. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted in Holiday Safety

How to #BeSafe this Holiday Season

Part 1 of a 3-part series

Holiday Safety 2014cAccording to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, home holiday decorations cause more than 400 holiday fires each year, resulting in $15 million in property loss and damage. Nothing is as sad as a news story about a child dying in a Christmas tree fire or a father falling off of a ladder while decorating the exterior of his home. As our holiday gift to you, we would like to offer some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe this holiday season.

This week, we will look at safe practices for choosing, displaying and decorating Christmas trees as well as working with holiday paper. Next week, we will feature a guest blogger, whose entry will cover holiday workplace safety, basic safety rules and home safety guidelines. Finally, we will conclude our three-week series by focusing on holiday travel, shopping and cooking.

Holiday Safety for 2014

Christmas Trees

Choosing your tree

  • Many artificial trees are fire resistant. If you choose to go with a fake tree, choose one that is rated as such.
  • If you decide to go with a live tree, freshness is key. A newly cut tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree…not to mention it will look nicer than one that is dead and brown.
  • To check for freshness, remember that a fresh tree is green, and fresh needles are hard to pull from branches. They also do not give when bent between your fingers.
  • When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is too dry. Keep looking.
  • The trunk of a freshly harvested tree should be sticky with resin.
  • I advise keeping lots of water in your tree bucket. Dogs like to drink from it…though (for safety), we really shouldn’t.

holiday safety 2014eDisplaying your tree

  • Before deciding where to put your tree, think about more than whether it is located near a picture window. Instead, make sure you choose a place in your home that is clear of all sources of heat including fireplaces, radiators and lamps. You might also want to consider where it won’t tempt your pet, since we tend to consider Christmas trees indoor plumbing!
  • Heated rooms dry out trees rapidly, creating fire hazards. So make sure your home remains relatively cool. But use common sense. If you’re cold, the tree probably will be too. It is alive, after all…if you choose a live one instead of a plastic fake version.
  • When prepping the tree, cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood for sufficient water absorption. Trim away branches as necessary to set your tree trunk in the base of a sturdy, water-holding stand with wide spread feet. Keep the stand filled with water while the tree is indoors. And this isn’t just so Fido has another cool water option. It’s actually to keep the tree alive as long as possible.
  • Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. If necessary, use thin guide-wires to secure a large tree to walls or ceiling. These wires are nearly invisible but will keep the tree safe even in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster.

Decorating

  • Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. If you like the look of a flocked tree, just make sure you avoid potential injury by reading container labels and carefully following directions. I’m not one for flocked trees. They block the fresh pine scent.
  • Interior Lighting. Use only lights that have been tested for safety. Identify these by the label from an independent testing laboratory.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using. Lights are so cheap these days, you can afford to pitch them and start from scratch instead of looking for a single burnt out bulb to replace.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house, walls or other firm support to protect from wind damage.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave the house. If they are not properly displayed, lights could short and start a fire. It might be tempting to leave them on. But resist the urge. Safety first!
  • Use colored spotlights above or beside a tree instead of fastened onto it.
  • Keep “bubbling” lights away from children. The bright colors and bubbling movement could tempt curious children to break the light, leaking poisonous liquid and posing an electrical hazard. I’ve never seen bubbling lights. But they sounds scary.

Wrapping-related Safety

  • If you decide to make paper decorations, choose papers, glitter and adhesives that are not flammable. Or, better yet, encourage the kiddos to work with something other than paper if they plan to hang it from the tree.
  • Don’t place trimming near open flames or electrical connections.
  • Remove all wrapping papers from tree and fireplace areas immediately after presents are opened. This is particularly important during parties and Christmas morning, when distractions abound.
  • Do not ever burn papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely

Next week, check back, as we will continue our three-week series about holiday safety. We hope that this blog post will help inform you about ways to #BESAFE this holiday season, and always, by taking necessary steps to improve your health and safety. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.