Warnings of extreme risk of frostbite are not uncommon during the coldest months of winter in Canada. And if you ignore the risk, it can happen to you. Learn the signs and symptoms of frostbite to protect yourself and your loved ones.

What is frostbite?

Your body is approximately 75% water. When exposed to freezing temperatures, the water in your cells can freeze and cause ice crystals to form, leading to frostbite.

Frostbite happens when your body tissue falls to -2 C or below. You’re at risk of frostbite whenever the ambient temperature, including windchill, drops below 0 C.

The severity of frostbite depends largely on the duration of exposure and the temperature. The colder the temperature, the faster the frostbite sets in. In temperatures with windchills below –20 C, frostbite can occur in just a few minutes. In temperatures with windchills below –30 C, frostbite can set in within a minute.

Exposure to moisture or bare metal can also cause the skin to stick to a surface and tear away if rapidly pulled from the material.

The body parts with the greatest potential for frostbite are your hands, nose, ears, cheeks and toes. Because these parts are not part of your body’s core, their cells and tissues are more susceptible to freezing.

Once your skin drops to 10 C or colder, you can start to lose feeling and not even realize you are suffering from frostbite. So it’s critical to be aware of the conditions that cause frostbite and take precautions.

Signs and symptoms of frostbite

One of the first signs of frostbite is a whitening of the skin and numbing of the exposed body parts. Your skin may also turn blue, indicating that oxygen and circulation are impaired. Unless you can rewarm the affected body parts, you may sustain permanent damage.

Deep frostbite must be treated by a trained medical professional. In severe cases of frostbite, the underlying skin layers where the nerves, live skin and other cells reside are affected. Ice crystals form in the cells and cause permanent and severe damage.

How to treat frostbite

First, keep your body parts covered and dry.

If frostbite is developing, get out of the cold and gradually rewarm the affected body parts. Remove shoes and wet socks and replace them with dry socks. Remove wet gloves and replace them with dry gloves.

Do not attempt to thaw the frozen body parts by placing them under hot running water. This will burn the skin and cause additional swelling and pain that can cut off circulation. Instead, hold a cup of hot coffee or hot water and place the affected body parts near a heater or in your pocket. Do not get too close to the heat source, since frostbitten skin can’t detect hot or cold.

Preventing frostbite

To prevent frostbite, keep your body parts warm and dry, especially your hands, nose, ears, cheeks and toes. When you’re going to be in freezing temperatures, bring an extra pair of socks and gloves and keep your face covered with a scarf.

Frostbite is preventable, but it does require awareness. Look out for signs and symptoms and be prepared whenever you’re going out in the cold.

Online shopping is one of the little joys of modern life: A few clicks on your computer or smartphone and, like magic, the package appears at your door a few days later.

Unfortunately, it’s not just shoppers who enjoy the convenience of online ordering. Porch pirates are a growing problem. These criminals swoop in and steal packages from the front porches and doorsteps of the intended recipients.

What to do if your package is missing

If your package is stolen, follow these steps to seek a replacement item or reimbursement.

1. File a police report. If you suspect something has been stolen, call the police. If others in your neighbourhood report similar problems, they may be able to launch an investigation and find the thief.

2. Contact the delivery carrier. Depending on how the package was shipped, you may have protections provided by the carrier.

3. Contact the seller or retailer. Report the missing package to the seller and request a replacement or refund.

4. Check your credit card for purchase protection. Many credit cards offer purchase protection. If the one you used to pay for a stolen purchase does, your credit card company may reimburse you for the value of your loss.

Home insurance coverage

Most renters and homeowners insurance policies cover stolen packages. However, whether or not you have coverage for an incident like this varies greatly. If you have questions about your coverage, the best thing to do is ask your insurance broker.

Home insurance may only be helpful if you’ve made an expensive purchase that’s worth a lot more than your deductible. And even if the lost item is worth more than the deductible, you’ll need to weigh the possibility of an increase in premiums after the claim.

If you’re ordering something very valuable, plan to be home during the delivery window or have a trusted neighbour sign for and hang on to the package for you.

How to prevent package theft

Here are some good ways to deter package thieves:

  • Make it look like you’re home. Package theft (and burglary in general) is less likely if it looks like someone is home. Leave your TV on and use a timer to turn your interior and exterior lights on and off. Draw the curtains or blinds to prevent peekers, and keep your property well-lit.
  • Insure your package. If you’re ordering a high-value item, such as a new smartphone or laptop, paying a few extra dollars for package insurance is a good idea.
  • Install a security camera or video doorbell. Many home security cameras and video cameras are easy to install and sync with a phone app, so you can check in on packages left throughout the day and receive delivery alerts. The mere presence of a camera may help deter porch pirates. But if you are targeted, the camera can provide evidence for a police report or an insurance claim. It may even get you a discount on your home insurance.
  • Use a lockbox. Have packages delivered to a secure third-party recipient, such as Amazon Locker. Local grocery and package delivery stores may also offer this service. For smaller items, you can buy a sturdy lockbox that sits outside and protects your packages until you get home.

If you receive frequent package deliveries, talk to your insurance broker about available options to minimize potential losses and eliminate aggravation.

You’ve probably heard of umbrella insurance, a type of coverage that protects you if a claim exceeds your insurance policy’s limits. But you might not be familiar with how it works, why your business may need it, and how it differs from excess insurance and regular insurance coverage.

Commercial umbrella insurance fulfills a specific business need: to increase the liability coverage you already have in your commercial general liability, commercial auto and employers liability coverage. If you’ve purchased a business owners policy (BOP), an umbrella policy can extend your coverage as well.

The key is to have these underlying policies in place first. Umbrella insurance is written on top of your existing coverage. For example, if you don’t carry commercial auto insurance, an umbrella policy won’t cover your employees if they cause an accident since you don’t have the underlying coverage.

In addition, umbrella protection extends your coverage only when your business is liable for property damage, personal injury or advertising injury. It’s not meant to increase your commercial property insurance limits.

How it works

Your business may have risks that go beyond the limits of your underlying policies. Suppose you have a general liability policy that covers up to $1 million in claims. A customer gets hurt while on your property, and the damages amount to $1.2 million.

Ordinarily, you would have to pay the remaining amount above $1 million, or $200,000. Depending on your policy’s limits, you could face substantial liability exposure.

You can protect yourself from catastrophic claims through a product called excess insurance, which simply increases the payout amount on a liability policy you already have. It increases the limits, but it doesn’t change the conditions or perils stipulated in your policy. If something is excluded from the underlying policy, it will also be excluded from the excess coverage.

Additionally, excess insurance is attached individually to each of your liability policies – not to all at once.

An umbrella policy, on the other hand, covers all your liability policies. It also can provide coverage that is broader than the underlying policy. An umbrella may pay a claim that wouldn’t ordinarily be covered by the underlying policy. Some common examples are extending auto coverage to include foreign countries or broadening liability coverage to include injuries that occur away from a job site.

If an umbrella policy covers a claim excluded by your underlying policy, you’ll need to first pay a self-insured retention (SIR). Sometimes known as the drop-down deductible, the SIR is the amount you must pay before the umbrella policy pays out.

If your underlying policy covers a claim, you must first exhaust that policy’s limit before making a claim on your umbrella policy.

In some cases, an umbrella policy may have exclusions not contained in your underlying policies. Be sure to ask your insurance broker what is included and what isn’t.

What’s covered

Umbrella policies typically cover legal costs you incur if you are sued and any judgments and settlements you must pay. They also pay for damage to another person’s property and medical expenses if someone is injured. Some policies also cover libel, reputational damage, product liability and professional liability.

If you have a commercial auto policy, umbrella insurance also covers your liability from accidents, including when you don’t own the vehicle (provided you have hired auto coverage).

Umbrella policies don’t cover punitive damages or personal liability.

Umbrella insurance has the advantage of extending the limits of several liability policies with one blanket policy. This may be preferable to raising the limits of several individual underlying policies.

Umbrella coverage is usually purchased in increments of $1 million. For example, a $10 million policy would provide up to $10 million in liability protection. This is on top of the limits on your underlying policies. So if your general liability coverage has a $1 million limit, you could double your coverage by purchasing a $1 million umbrella policy. Umbrella coverage is usually less expensive than the underlying policy.

Bear in mind that all of your underlying policies will draw from the single umbrella limit. If you use $1 million from a $3 million umbrella policy to pay an auto claim, that leaves you $2 million for other claims. Umbrella policies have per occurrence and aggregate limits that are the same. If a single claim exceeds your per occurrence limit of $3 million, you will have exhausted your aggregate limit as well.

In some cases, an insurer may require that you carry additional underlying liability insurance before it will write a higher umbrella policy.

When do you need umbrella coverage?

Certain types of businesses are more likely to need an umbrella policy. A lot depends on your liability exposure. Do you frequently have customers on your premises? Is your type of business considered a high risk, or is your work site potentially hazardous? Do your employees work on a customer’s property? Do you own vehicles and make deliveries?

Retail, hospitality, construction, shipping, manufacturing, health care and energy are some industries where employers may need umbrella coverage. Likewise, an umbrella policy may make sense for certain situations, such as if your company owns a boat or airplane. In some cases, a business partner may require that you have umbrella insurance. Government contractors are often required to carry it.

The cost of umbrella coverage depends on factors such as type of business, location, number of employees and your prior claims experience. Consult with an insurance broker to determine the coverage you need and your best options for limiting your exposure to a lawsuit or costly medical award.

When purchasing umbrella coverage, also keep these points in mind:

  • Umbrella coverage doesn’t have to be written by the same company that writes the underlying policies.
  • Make sure your umbrella policy has the same coverage dates as your underlying insurance.
  • You must keep your underlying coverage in force during the term of your umbrella policy.

Talk to an insurance broker who knows your market

Before you purchase umbrella coverage, make sure you have all of the liability coverage you need. Work with a broker to identify gaps in coverage. For example, do you need employment practices liability insurance to protect against discrimination, harassment and other employee lawsuits? Do you need directors and officers liability insurance to protect your top executives and board members? Do you need professional liability to protect against claims of error or negligence in the performance of your duties?

You should also be aware of recent market trends in umbrella insurance. These policies have seen double-digit premium increases over the past year as the property/casualty market hardens. As a result of increased lawsuits and higher claims, carriers have tightened their underwriting and reduced the amount of coverage they are willing to offer. Higher-limit policies may be harder to find or more expensive.

Umbrella coverage is still one of the best ways of protecting against extraordinary claims that could bankrupt your business. For many firms, it’s an essential risk-management tool.

Did you know that if you’re driving and engaging in a conversation on your mobile device, you are over 4 times more likely to be involved in an accident? Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of driving-related accidents resulting in bodily injury in Alberta.

Let’s take a look at what constitutes distracted driving, what the consequences are, and what you can do to curb any bad habits you’ve developed.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving refers to the use of hand-held devices and certain display screens while driving, stopped in traffic, or stopped at a red light. Basically, if you’re driving and engage in an activity involving a mobile device, then you are guilty of distracted driving under Alberta law.

When you are in the driver’s seat, it is illegal to engage in the following:

  • Texting or dialing your phone or hand-held wireless device
  • Using your tablet or portable gaming system
  • Engaging with a display screen unrelated to driving (e.g. watching a video)
  • Programming a GPS (if not via voice command)
  • Writing, printing, or sketching
  • Reading printed materials
  • Grooming

In Alberta, it is illegal to even hold your phone while driving. The only times that you are permitted to use your phone while in your car are when you have to call 911 or when you’re safely parked off the road.

It is not illegal to use a hands-free communication device such as a Bluetooth device or earpiece, nor is it illegal to use a GPS unit if it is built in or securely mounted to your vehicle’s dashboard.

However, be aware: despite the fact that it is legal to use a hands-free device while driving, the risk of being involved in an accident is still greatly increased. Talking on any device can diminish your reaction time, making you a risk to both yourself and others.

CAUTION: Eating, drinking, smoking, and reaching for things while driving are not classified as distracted driving in Alberta. Despite this, these activities increase your risk of getting into an accident, and doing any of them can result in careless or dangerous driving charges.

The penalties for distracted driving

Because using a cell phone or other electronic device while driving is so dangerous, you can face serious penalties if you are caught.

If convicted of distracted driving, you may face a penalty of a $287 fine and three demerit points. If you are charged with careless driving or a moving violation, you could face additional penalties.

If you are found to be endangering individuals as a result of distracted driving, you can face additional charges. Careless and dangerous driving charges can result in loss of demerit points, steep fines, licence suspensions, and jail time.

Additionally, if you are convicted of distracted driving, your auto insurance can be affected. You could face higher insurance rates, classification as a high-risk driver, or even cancellation of your policy altogether.

Remember, even if your driving doesn’t seem to be affected, you can still be charged with distracted driving.

How to prevent distracted driving

We’ve become accustomed to responding to our phones as soon as they chime, beep, and vibrate, and it can be easy to find ourselves answering calls or pressing away at buttons while driving. Here are some tips on what you can do to avoid becoming distracted while driving:

Turn your mobile device off: This is both the easiest and the hardest solution. Powering down your device ensures that you’ll be distraction free, but doing this requires some discipline. Try turning your phone off when you enter your car, then turning it back on when you get out.

Hide your device: Even if you have your phone off and it’s beside you, you might be tempted to power it up while driving to see if you’ve missed a call or message. If you can’t see your phone, chances are you’ll be less tempted to respond to it. Try putting your device in the trunk of the car before getting in. You probably won’t even miss it.

Set your phone to Do Not Disturb: Most phones now have a Do Not Disturb feature. This feature will prevent calls and texts from coming in unless the caller is on a pre-designated list or the same number calls multiple times in a row. Setting your device to Do Not Disturb while having your Bluetooth activated will ensure the only calls that will reach you are important ones.

Give your phone to a passenger: If you’re expecting an important call or text, give your phone to someone else who can respond to any message. They can take care of the call while you take care of the driving.

Distracted driving is a serious risk both to yourself and to others. It’s not worth taking the chance. If you have questions about how changing your driving habits can affect your insurance rate, speak to your insurance broker.