Monday, April 14, 2014

What’s all the buzz about?

LMCIT’s spring safety and loss control workshops are in full swing all around the state of Minnesota.  The hotel’s complimentary morning newspaper and a cup of coffee greet us as we groggily prepare for the day…..What?! Man survives after chainsaw slips .   The saw blade and chain are graphically clear against the bones in a chest x-ray photo that accompanies the article. 

Did you know that the federal OSHA logging and operations standard applies to any tree felling done by city employees?  Did you know that the LMCIT loss control consultants can provide guidance if you need to develop your employee safety program?  Well it does and they can.

The logging operations standard includes various requirements for the provision, inspection and maintenance of equipment (e.g., personal protective equipment, tools, vehicles, and machines) used in performing logging operations.  It also requires first aid training.  

The standard incorporates performance requirements that provide flexibility to employers in developing safety and health programs to suit logging operations in all regions of the country. The standard also requires employers to provide training for each employee who has not been trained previously.

For free chainsaw safety training  contact Ed LaFavor at MN OSHA  by:
  • phone at (218) 362-5915;
  • fax at (218) 362-5916; or
  • e-mail at

Let's keep the buzzin' for the bees!    

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Contractors – Do Your Homework Before You Hire

Have you ever hired a contractor only to witness them doing unsafe acts while doing work for the city?  Many of you have probably had these types of experiences, and can think of several examples when this happened to you.  What did you do about it? 

Although it may not happen that often, there are times when OSHA can hold the city responsible for safety violations committed by the contractor.  This can happen when the city hires a contractor, but doesn’t do their homework before they hire.  Whether or not your own employees are put at risk by these unsafe acts or conditions, the city can still be held liable in some situations.

In order to make sure you are hiring quality contractors (and reducing city liability), you should consider having a written contractor safety program.  The program may include some of the following:  
  • Contractor safety records
  • Insurance requirements
  • Indemnification
  • Unsafe Acts
  • Written safety programs and training
  • Supervision
  • Use of equipment

Contractors should be thoroughly screened before hiring.  If you don’t already have one, you may wish to consider using a checklist or form to gather contractor data before signing the contract for the work to be done.  The checklist may look something like the following:

_____   Contract bid specifications include a requirement of workers’ compensation modifier of 1.1 or                      below, OR include language that weighs the contractors’ safety records.

_____   [ENTITY] is named on the contractor’s policy as an “Additional Insured”.  List coverage periods:

_____   The contractor has provided a certificate of insurance to [ENTITY] for both liability and workers’                compensation.  List coverage periods:

_____   Contractor agrees to defend and indemnify [ENTITY], and the employees, officers and agents of                  the entity for any claims filed against the entity arising from the contractor’s actions.

_____  The contractor has provided [ENTITY] with the following written safety programs:

_____  The contractor has provided [ENTITY] with the following safety training records:

_____   The contractor has attended an orientation session for working with [ENTITY].  List date:

 If your city has questions about contractor safety and liability, please be certain to contact your assigned loss control consultant.  They can help answer your questions and provide you with additional resources.

LMCIT Loss Control Staff

Friday, March 28, 2014

Beep! Beep! Backing Accidents in Public Works

Public Works is a big user of motor vehicles and equipment including: pick-up trucks, dump trucks, graders, loaders, tractors, etc. For the most part, thousands of miles are traveled safely, without incident. However, there are around 1800 vehicle-related LMCIT claims each year that account for about $4.8 million paid in damages each year.  Here is a handy tool for you to download, print and place in vehicles for those unfortunate occasions when a vehicle accident occurs.   Cab Card for Vehicle Accidents
According to the National Safety Council, around 25% of all vehicle accidents are attributed to backing and poor backing techniques. Below are short and long term techniques that can reduce these numbers:

 Short Term Techniques
  • Park defensively, use spots that are easy to exit
  • Don’t park where others may back into you
  • Get to know blind spots and mirror limitations in your vehicles
  • Back into parking spots if possible
  • Complete a vehicle walk around before backing
  • Use a spotter, train employees on common hand signals

 Long Term Techniques
  • Purchase vehicles with back-up cameras and/or retrofit existing vehicles with cameras
  • Conduct backing training using equipment employees are anticipated to drive
  • Install vehicle back-up alarms on vehicles that back frequently

Physical Damage
On average, LMCIT receives 1,100 claims for vehicle physical damage. Incurred losses were approximately $2.7 million per year during 2009-12, or about $2,600 per claim.

Liability Damage
On average, LMCIT receives 670 auto liability claims each year. From 2009-12 costs averaged $2.1 million per year, or about $3,400 per claim

by Joe Ingebrand

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Frozen water lines and sewer lines don't mix!

Pipe Thawing Cross Connection/Contamination
by Paul Gladen

The issue of frozen pipes is at an all-time high around the state this year.
Cities are facing several issues of how to get the lines cleared and what to tell citizens on how to go about enlisting services to clear the lines. The two methods used are electrically heating the lines using welding equipment or specific line thawing equipment designed to heat the lines electrically and the second is using a hot water pulse machine to melt the ice. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. With the electric there is the possibility of stray electricity damaging the homes electrical system and or appliances or a cause of fire in the home being worked on or neighboring homes near the property. With the hot water machines there is a potential for cross connection contamination of the domestic water system.  The cross connection contamination concern was brought up by the Owatonna Public Utilities in response to our last blog on thawing water pipes. After talking with Owatonna Public Utilities and others on the issue it was felt that other cities could benefit from some guidance and direction on the cross connection contamination hazards and best practices.  

The hazards of contamination of drinking water during the thawing process is a result of the process involved in using the equipment. The jetting and hot water pulse equipment introduces a feed line directly into the water pipe and uses pressurized hot water to cut through and melt the ice. These machines have a hot water tank that recirculates the hot water from a heating tank on the machine pumping it through the feed tube to the ice blockage. The equipment needs to be properly taken care of and good housekeeping practices need to be followed by the operators (contractors or the city/utility) of the equipment in order to reduce the potential for contamination. There is a potential for these machines to have been used to clear sewer and drain lines which can introduce bacteria in to the domestic water supply. It would be a good practice for plumbing operators to have dedicated equipment for domestic water work and not use it for any other purpose.

Owatonna Public Utilities has put together a notice Owatonna Public Utilities sample notice to contractors that the city plans on distributing to the contractors in the area as well as to the citizens who have frozen lines. The notice outlines the best practices which should be followed by the plumbing contractors, and city utilities as well, to reduce the chance of contamination. These steps  are considered best practices for reducing contamination during the hot water thawing method. Following these recommendations will not totally eliminate the possibility of contamination but are felt to be good practice and a positive step in significantly reducing it.

Thank you to the people at the Owatonna Public Utilities Department for their contribution to this issue. A copy of the Owatonna notice is accessible in an attachment as an example for others use in the development their own notice.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sanitary sewers and frozen water lines...What goes around comes around.

From Waterloo to Kalamazoo and back communities across several states continue to battle the issue of frozen water lines.  the loss control department at LMCIT is using this blogspot to disseminate information as it develops or becomes available.  A recent article in The Litchfield Independent Review, City workers battling frozen pipes caught my attention.

I called Litchfield City Administrator Dave Cziok to follow up on the article that suggested residents try running a tub of hot water through the pipes once a day or running the hot water for about 5 minutes a day.

According to Dave, the city came to this idea organically.  When frozen water lines first started to be an issue he called a meeting and decided to approach this issue from both the sewer and water side, vs. only the water side.  Here's what helped the city come to that decision:
  • The financial burden of continuously running water
  • The extra processing on the wastewater treatment plant side
  • The city heard from people that ran water in a pencil thin stream (as advised by plumbers and other sources) and now the residents have a sewer back-up issue
  • The city didn't want to create liability for themselves on the sewer back-up side due to the advice the city gave to continuously run the cold water

Running the hot water has not worked in all situations and in fact the city is finding a variety of scenarios as to what is causing the freeze-ups/back-ups.  The city is dispatching public works employees to assess specific situations and they in turn make a determination of what the best approach would be to thaw the lines.  Dave Cziok  is willing to answer calls from other cities if staff would like to discuss more detail with him.

 LMCIT's litigation attorney, Jack Hennen had these comments:

"I was worried that the cold water trickle method to prevent water lines from freezing would cause ice accumulation in shallow sanitary sewer service lines.  With a slow trickle of very cold water an icicle can form inside the sanitary sewer service line."

"When a lot of hot water is put down the line it heats up and cleans out the line and then the vented line dries out until the next discharge--this can deter ice formation in the sewer service lateral.  Public Works staffs' familiarity with the area, the depth of the basement (full basement or half basement with walkout), and "as builts" showing the depth of both the sanitary sewer line and the water lines should allow City Employees to give better guidance to homeowners on a case by case basis."

"I do think that such advice should always be characterized in terms of a "tip" or suggestion--i.e.'you might like to try--but we cannot make any kind of guarantee that this will work.'  Suggestions are only suggestions--ultimately the homeowners should rely on their own good judgement or on what a plumber they hire tells them."

by Cheryl Brennan

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This issue will be with us for awhile - frozen water lines

Loss Control, Research and Claims staff at the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust continue to receive phone calls and emails about this issue from members across the state.  Here is a link to a good news article in the Brainerd Dispatch on how a few Minnesota Cities are dealing with frozen pipes.  As I look outside yet another snow storm is making its way through the region.  One thing for certain.  "Old Man Winter" still reigns up here in the Northland!

By Cheryl Brennan

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What cities may say to residents who have frozen water lines. By LMCIT Loss Control

The continuing subzero cold weather has caused an unprecedented number of water line freeze-ups in some northern states of the country and in many areas of our own state of Minnesota.    Residents are calling city hall for advice on how to handle this issue.

Encourage residents to call a private party to deal with private water lines, sometimes known as lateral lines, running from the curb stop to the home or building. Cities do not generally work on these lines because they are private property and often made the responsibility of the owner by city ordinances.

Electrical welders used for thawing frozen water lines pose risk. Improper thawing of frozen water lines with an electrical welder can s result in some fire losses and smaller property claims for damage to buildings, appliances, electronics, etc. The potential risk of thawing with an electrical welder exceeds the expected benefits.  The Michigan Municipal League does have some guidelines in the event an electrical welder is the only option. Thawing Frozen Underground Water Pipes

Alternative device
There is a commercial electrical product specifically designed to thaw frozen water pipes that LMCIT Loss Control just identified.  The “Hot Shot” distributed by General Pipe Cleaners.  If anyone has used this product please let us know the results.  Hot Shot

Additional information for cities
Take steps to thaw the city portion of water lines only – doing more increases the city’s/utility’s risk of liability due to damages caused by thawing lines.

The best approach is to transfer the risk to another party, usually a fully insured plumbing contractor. The contractor then assumes most of the loss exposure created by thawing frozen water lines.  Require contractors to:
  • Provide certificates of liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
  • Provide a minimum of $2,000,000 in commercial general liability insurance.  The city should be added as an additional insured.
  • Defend and indemnify the city in a written agreement for any claims against the city arising from the contractor’s work.

If the city decides to thaw the municipal portion of the line consider using a commercial product designed for this task such as the “Hot Shot” listed above or a hot water unit such as a Magikist or similar non-electrical means.  The hot water method can take some time to thaw the lines.   In the meantime the city could try to run a water line from an adjacent property until the waterline is thawed.   

If city feels pressured to give advice to property owners 
Consider compiling a list of names of companies that deal with frozen water lines and provide that on the website or in city hall, not as a recommendation but simply as information.
  • You can educate the property owner to be aware of unintended consequences of contractors thawing water lines particularly if using an electrical welder.  Namely fire, explosion, damage to appliances and electronics, and the possibility of damage to other property owners in the case of stray electrical current. 
  • Suggest the property owner determine if the contractor is using a commercial device manufactured specifically to thaw frozen water lines. 
  • Suggest the resident determine if the contractor is insured. 

If the city feels compelled to help property owners thaw their portion of the line have the city attorney draft a waiver to be signed by the property owner.  

If a city wants to develop a policy here is an idea of some points to cover.  Work with your city attorney to draft this policy.  

Definition of service level, priorities of service and procedures for thawing of frozen service laterals.

Policy Statement

1. The City will provide a service of thawing frozen service laterals to owner occupied residences, owner-occupied residential condominiums and owner-occupied co-operative housing. Except as outlined elsewhere in this Policy for City-owned rental or non-profit housing, the City will not provide a thawing service for any other class of property.

2. The City will thaw external water service laterals only, not frozen plumbing inside the residence.

3. The City will respond to calls in order of complaints received.

4. Calls received during regular working hours shall be responded to as resources permit. Calls received after regular working hours will be responded to within sixteen hours of receipt of the call, or as soon as possible after sixteen hours of receipt of the call in the event that other emergencies tie up resources and make it impossible to deal with the thawing request.

5. If a crew is already out on overtime basis when a request to thaw a service lateral is received, the crew will respond prior to going home, unless it is likely that the work will keep the crew out past midnight.

6. There will be no charge to the resident if the property can be thawed without digging, and if it is the first occurrence of the season for the property. A charge of a fee as set by Council, payable in advance, will be made for subsequent thawing services within a single season.

7. City-owned rental or non-profit housing units will be afforded the same thawing service as ‘owner occupied residences’, except that the Department of Building and Property Management will be charged for the full cost of the service. The Department of Building and Property Management are free to employ the services of an outside contractor, if they view the wait is too long for their tenants.

8. [OPTIONAL] The City will use hot water or steam in its thawing operations. The use of electric pipe thawing machines or welding machines is strictly prohibited, and persons using same will be held liable for any damage caused.

9. The City reserves the right to deviate from this policy at any time if deemed to be in the best interests of the City and its residents based on safety, political and economic considerations.  Any deviation and the reason for the deviation shall be documented in writing.