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Sep 21, 2014
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January 2014 Archive for Farm Talk on the Front Porch

RSS By: Grinnell Mutual, AgWeb.com

You face risks as you cultivate crops and raise livestock. We’ll share tips, stories and recommendations to help you protect property and prevent costly losses on the farm. It's our Policy of Working Together®.

Grinnell Mutual urges residents to test for radon: Find out if a cancer-causing gas is contaminating

Jan 29, 2014

During National Radon Action Month, Grinnell Mutual encourages Midwesterners to test their homes and business for the second leading cause of lung cancer, radon. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

"Iowa is known to have one of the highest average radon gas concentrations in the United States," said Director of Corporate Loss Control Larry Gallagher. "Several neighboring states where Grinnell Mutual writes insurance are known to traditionally have very high radon levels as well. It’s very prevalent in the Midwest."

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas emitted from rocks and soil. When it seeps into areas without enough ventilation, unsafe levels of the gas collect and are unknowingly inhaled.

"Radon can enter homes through cracks in the foundation, through openings around pipes that enter the home, and even through the water system if a person is using a deep well. A lot of people assume that radon only exists in the old farm homes with the rock foundations or exposed dirt floors. That’s not actually true.  Radon can enter a new home if there are elevated levels on the property," said Gallagher.

The good news about radon? It’s easy and affordable to test your building for radon, and if an elevated level is detected, it can be reduced through a mitigation system. In addition, the winter months provide an excellent opportunity for radon testing as windows and doors need to be closed as much as possible during the multi-day test.

Grinnell Mutual recommends taking the following steps to identify and address radon levels in your home or business:

  • Purchase a radon testing kit from a local hardware or home improvement store.
  • Follow the instructions on the radon test kit. Once the test is complete, mail it in for analysis according to the kit’s instructions. 
  • If the test results show an elevated level of radon, consider installing a radon mitigation system that exhausts radon out of the building.

"The concern with radon increases for individuals who spend a lot of time at home, whether it’s a stay-at-home parent, someone working from home, a retiree, etc. Those individuals, as well as smokers, are far more likely to contract lung cancer from radon," said Gallagher.

To learn more about radon, view the radon levels in your county, or find local radon investigators or mitigators, go to http://state-radon.info.

About Grinnell Mutual

Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, in business since 1909, provides reinsurance for farm mutual insurance companies and property and casualty insurance products through more than 1,600 independent agents in 12 Midwestern states. Grinnell Mutual is the 123rd largest property-casualty insurance company in the United States and the largest primary reinsurer of farm mutual companies in North America.


Know the trail: Snowmobiling safely

Jan 23, 2014

This winter, more than 10 million people will ride across blankets of white on snowmobiles. The breathtaking beauty of snow-filled woods and fields attracts some people to snowmobiling while others treasure traversing the winter landscape with friends and family. 

"If you're out there with the right safety gear and the right cold-weather gear, it can be something very enjoyable," says Laurie Cisewski, a claims adjuster with Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company. "You're going through the woods and it's beautiful."

Snowmobiling is fun, but it challenges the body and mind. The wind, sun, glare, cold, vibration, motion, and other factors work together to affect both driver and passenger. 

Grinnell Mutual recommends being ready to ride and knowing the trails to ensure a fun, enjoyable snowmobiling experience.

snowmobileBe alert

"You're going through the woods and it's beautiful, but you have to be aware of your surroundings," says Cisewski. "The woods are also the living room of deer, moose, wolves, and other animals. The animals are also using these trails because the snow is so deep off the trail.

"You have a chance of hitting an animal that will cause damage to your snowmobile and injury to you. If you go 50 mph and hit a deer or other animal, you may be seriously injured."

If you ride with others, Cisewski recommends following at a safe distance and using hand signals to communicate. 

"If there's danger ahead, the lead rider can signal to others," says Cisewski. "I've seen where one snowmobiler rear ends the next one, and there's a whole chain reaction because they did not ride at a safe distance. Snowmobiles do not stop on a dime."

There is a temptation for some snowmobile riders to consume alcohol while riding. Alcohol opens the blood vessels and may make people momentarily feel warmer, but it does nothing to increase body heat. Instead, it can lower your body's core temperature, raising the risk of hypothermia. Alcohol also increases fatigue, fogs your ability to make good decisions, and slows your reaction time. Many states have laws against operating a snowmobile under the influence of alcohol.

Know the trails

Don't snowmobile alone. Not only is snowmobiling more fun with family and friends, it's safer, too. But before you hit the trail, look at the map.

"It's a safety thing. Everyone needs to look at the map. Look for bends in the trail, road crossings, and open water," says Cisewski. "There are warning signs, but sometimes they get covered up with snow."

Local snowmobiling clubs know their local trails well. In fact, they may be the ones grooming and maintaining the trails through the winter. If you plan to ride a trail that's new to you, consider reaching out to a local club.

For trail conditions, trail maps, and more information about snowmobiling rules and regulations, click the links below from state agencies and snowmobiling associations.


No ice is safe ice: Ice fishermen talk about safety

Jan 14, 2014

Ice fisherman Terry Hintz still remembers the day he went through the ice at a natural, spring-fed lake near Mason City, Iowa. 

"People were ice fishing about 20-30 yards from shore by the outlet at Clear Lake.  I was probably 10 yards from shore. You could see footprints where people walked to get out there. There was a crack in the ice and people were stepping over that."

Hintz, now a senior claims adjuster at Grinnell Mutual, stopped to look at the crack, which broke immediately. 

 "I went in the water," said Hintz. Thanks to the buoyant snowmobile suit he wore that day, he bobbed back up. "I pushed myself out and went home."

Proper ice fishing gear can save lives

People who enjoy ice fishing need more than just a rod, reel, bait, and tackle box. Because no ice is completely safe, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends that ice fishermen should also bring gear— ice picks, personal floatation devices, nylon rope, and wool blankets—to help themselves or a fellow fisherman get out of the water.

"If you go through you’ve got to be able to get out to avoid hypothermia or drowning," said Hintz. "I wear a tool around my neck with two prongs on it that I can jab into the ice to pull myself up out of the water back onto the ice if I should happen to go through. Hopefully that never happens again since I am a lot more cautious and will not venture out on thin or questionable ice."   

"There are self-inflating life jackets on the market," said Grinnell Mutual Claims Adjuster Paul Christensen, also an avid ice fisherman. "You want to have something to grab onto and that will inflate if you go through the ice."

"Never go out on the ice alone," added Hintz. "Always make sure you tell someone exactly where you are going."

Know where you’re going

"Don’t pick a lake and start walking on the ice. That’s a big mistake," said Christensen. "Go with someone who has gone before and is familiar with the lake."

Each lake, pond, and river behaves differently in winter months and some bodies of water are never safe for ice fishing. A variety of factors affect ice thickness, including air and water temperatures, snow cover, water currents, and even the fish themselves. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources cautions ice fishermen that ice can vary from two inches to two feet in thickness in just a matter of feet.

"River ice is unpredictable," said Hintz. "It has a current going through that can eat away at the ice from underneath, especially if the water coming in is a little warmer. The flow of the water doesn’t allow the ice to form as thick as pond or lake ice." 

"A farm pond will cool down and warm up faster than a larger lake," said Christensen. "With a farm pond, you can go out one week and have six inches of ice and go out a week later and have only two inches."

Inspect the ice

Graphic courtesy of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

"I don’t want to risk my life going out on ice," said Hintz. "A few weeks ago the pond where I live had frozen over with good, clear, solid ice. I could walk out in the shallow areas along the edge and see through the 4-inch-thick ice all the way to the bottom on my pond. That was good, safe ice." 

Ice should be a minimum of 4 inches thick for ice fishing. (Click to see a full size image of ice thickness recommendations. Graphic courtesy of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.) Ice that is slushy, whitish, or otherwise discolored will not be as strong as clear ice. Snowmobiles and ATVs require at least 5 inches of clear, solid ice. Cars and light trucks need at least eight inches. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends checking the ice every 50 yards by using an ice chisel or ice auger to create a hole to check ice thickness. Hintz prefers a gas-powered ice auger while Christensen uses a hand auger. 

"I’ll walk out from shore a little ways where it’s deep enough to drill a hole and then take a tape measurer to measure from the bottom lip of the ice to the top," said Hintz. "I have a spoon to scoop ice from the hole that is marked with inches so I can measure with that, too."

Have fun

The danger of falling through ice into frigid water doesn’t keep Hintz or Christensen from their favorite winter pastime. For many Midwesterners, ice fishing is a fun and relaxing sport when approached with caution, preparation, and appropriate safety measures.

"It’s fun to go out and sit on the ice," said Christensen. "It fends off the cabin fever. With an ice shack, it can be 10 below zero and not feel too bad out there."

"Ice fishing is a good way to get out of the house during the wintertime," agreed Hintz. "Go out and do something, get together with the guys, be social."

For fishing reports and more information about ice fishing, click the links below.


Grinnell Mutual Offers Safety Tips for Staying Safe While Staying Warm

Jan 07, 2014

With temperatures dropping, people are turning up the heat at home. High gas and electricity costs are causing some to consider alternative heating sources—including space heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces, and generators. Grinnell Mutual would like to remind homeowners that these heating sources can pose serious risks if not used properly.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the last peak in home heating fires occurred in the early 1980s during the energy shortage, caused by the "sudden increased use of alternative heating, particularly wood heating stoves and space heaters."

Since then, the USFA reports a decline in the number of residential heating fires. The leading cause of nonconfined residential fires in recent years has been the misuse of material, including placing combustibles too close to the heating source. Experience and data from Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company’s Special Investigations Unit supports the USFA’s findings.

"In 2009, we were four times more likely to investigate fires from solid fuel-burning appliances—like a wood burning stove or fireplace—than from a gas or electric furnace. Unlike furnaces, these appliances require more maintenance and are less forgiving if neglected," said Alan Clark, the assistant vice president of special investigations. "The majority of the heating fires were caused by combustibles being too close to the heat source."

Before pulling an old appliance out of storage or making a new purchase, Grinnell Mutual offers safety recommendations to prevent home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning:

Space heaters

Space heaters are commonly used to cut heating expenses. Stay safe by placing space heaters at least three feet away from combustible materials, such as curtains or furniture. Always turn off space heaters if no one is in the room and never leave young children alone near a space heater.

"Sometimes space heaters are plugged in using inappropriate extension cords and then the cords are run beneath rugs. Cords wear down as people walk over them, increasing the chance of a fire. Other times towels catch on fire when people try to use their space heaters as dryers," said Clark. "It's important that people use appliances appropriately."

Special precautions should also be taken with kerosene space heaters. Purchase kerosene heaters with an automatic shut-off feature, should the appliance tip over. Open windows to provide necessary ventilation. Extra fuel should be stored in sheds away from the home if possible and the heater should always be refueled outdoors. Some municipality fire codes do not allow kerosene space heaters.

Wood-burning stoves and chimneys

Solid fuel-burning appliances, such as stoves that burn wood, pellets, or corn, should be vented into a factory-built, solid fuel-burning chimney or a masonry chimney with a clay tile liner. Spark arrestors should also be used atop wood stove chimneys to prevent hot embers from falling onto the roof or nearby vegetation.

"Recommended chimneys help ensure that the gases are properly vented to the exterior of the building. This helps decrease carbon monoxide build-up within the home as well as the probability of a fire," said Grinnell Mutual’s Director of Corporate Loss Control Larry Gallagher. "The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Grinnell Mutual do not recommend venting products of combustion from a solid fuel-burning appliance through a single wall vent pipe. In winter months, the low outside temperatures will cool the exterior walls of the single wall vent pipe, which in turns cools the hot gases within the pipe. The cooling of gases increases creosote build-up within the pipe, which also increases the probability of a chimney fire within the home."

Burning charcoal or materials other than what a manufacturer recommends can lead to deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Before lighting the first fire of the season, have the chimney inspected for missing tiles or cracked mortar and cleaned to remove creosote and bird nests.


With the memory of Midwest ice storms fresh at hand, some homeowners have purchased generators to provide emergency power. To provide a safe connection, generators should always be hard wired to the home.

"Using temporary wiring, such as lightweight extension cords, to connect generators to the home is both a fire hazard and it can cause appliances to burn out," cautioned Gallagher.

Homeowners should also install a transfer switch so they can disconnect from their local utilities when their generators are running. Otherwise, they risk back-feeding power to the utility grid and electrocuting utility employees who are working on the power lines.

Keys to safe home heating

  • Only use heating appliances that have been listed with a nationally recognized safety organization, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Canadian Safety Association (CSA).
  • Choose a reputable contractor to install stoves or furnaces according to the manufacturer’s recommendation regarding the proper distance from combustible materials.
  • Vent appliances to the exterior of the building to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Inspect /clean chimneys and vent pipes annually. This service should be performed by an experienced contractor.
  • Place working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of the home. Test them monthly and change their batteries twice each year.


"Insurance companies have guidelines for the types of heating sources they insure, so check with your insurance carrier before making a purchase," advised Gallagher. "If you’re concerned about the installation of your heating system, contact your local insurance carrier to have a loss control representative evaluate the installation."

Extended winter trips

Taking an extended winter trip? Homeowners should take the following steps to ensure their homes are in working order when they return:

  • Turn down the furnace (but don’t turn it off).
  • Shut off the water and drain pipes.
  • Ask a trusted neighbor or friend to periodically check on the house.
  • Contact your insurance agent to let them know your plans.



Grinnell Mutual safety demonstration prevents explosion and injury 10 years later

Jan 02, 2014

Grinnell Mutual Claims Manager Mark Lageveen didn't realize the lasting impact an LP gas demonstration would have on his son’s sixth grade class. That is, until Lageveen ran into one of his son's classmates last spring. The young man not only recalled Lageveen's demonstration from 11 years ago but he had used the knowledge of LP gas properties to prevent a serious accident.

"With loss control initiatives, you never know if you prevented something because it doesn't happen. That's why it was neat to hear this young man's story," said Lageveen.

As related to Lageveen, the young man was visiting a family member whose LP gas line was accidentally cut by a mower or weed eater. The leaking line was sending gas into the home and could be smelled as soon as he opened the door. One of his family members was about to go down to the basement with a lit cigarette when the young man stopped her just in time. He immediately shut the gas tank off and aired out the basement.

"Because LP gas is heavier than air, it sank to the basement. This young man knew that a lit cigarette would ignite the gas and explode," said Lageveen. "I'm sure he prevented a serious injury, if not death."

The demonstration—learning the properties of LP gas

The LP gas experiment Lageveen presented was developed by one of the founder's of Grinnell Mutual's loss control program, Gary Downey. It shows the physical properties of LP gas, which is commonly used to heat and cool homes in the rural Midwest. Small LP tanks are also used in outdoor gas grills and campers.

During the presentation, a glass jar filled with LP gas is poured into a pan elevated 30 inches above a table. A hole in the bottom of the pan is attached to a long plastic tube which terminates directly above a votive candle sitting on the table. Because the vapors are heavier than air, the gas flows down the tube. When the vapors reach the candle, the gas ignites and flashes up the tube, consuming the LP gas vapor.

Learn more about responding to gas leaks

Check out these articles, Is my gas grill safe?  and Is my home safe - LP gas 101 under the Resource Center on grinnellmutual.com and share them with your customers.


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