Thursday, October 23, 2014

Frozen Water Lines....A "golden opportunity" to plan

On our last post we shared some information including sample policy language and a waiver on thawing frozen lateral lines.
 In the depths of the cold last year many cities felt pressured to make a decision on thawing lateral lines.  Some cities, and some contractors that a city might have recommended, used electric welders.  Some of the claims that came into the League specifically from using electric welders included:

* Fire damage to the home
* Damage to electrical appliances
* Stray current causing electrical equipment damage to neighboring properties
* A power surge that damaged radio systems equipment on the water tower
* Stray current that damaged phone lines

Here’s some comments from the head of the League of Minnesota Cities' property / casualty department.

Brian Pulczinski…… The P & C claims department received several frozen water/sewer line claims this past winter.  A city is obligated to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the construction, maintenance and inspection of all utilities, including its water distribution system.  If the city fails to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in this area, OR if they respond to an occurrence inappropriately, the city could be found negligent and a third party may be able to recover damages. 

In the vast majority of these frozen water/sewer line cases, we found that most of the frozen lines were caused by an Act of God/Nature – unprecedented and unrelenting cold weather that caused frost to go deeper into the ground than ever before and deeper than the city could reasonably have anticipated occurring.  Generally speaking, the city is not negligent in these situations and not responsible for damages to a third party.  For the few cases we found negligence, most of these involved some type of action the city took when responding to the frozen lines (i.e. – using a welder to thaw out a frozen water line, causing a fire at a residence home).  

Here in the Loss Control department at the League we’ve identified two pieces of equipment that are specifically marketed to thaw frozen lines if your city/entity makes the decision to attempt to thaw frozen laterals (see previous post for some guidelines).  The “Hot Shot” The Hot Shot  distributed by General Pipe Cleaners and The Magikist Pulse De-icer.

Last year retailers ran out of equipment to sell due to the heavy demand across a wide section of the country.  Now is the time to make purchases and/or make arrangements with neighboring cities to share this equipment. Keeping in mind that it is just as cold for people in the neighboring city as it is in your own!  For that reason it is important to make note of where there were freeze ups in the past.   

Next up we’ll talk about some helpful hints to post on your city web page. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Frozen Water Lines....... Take 2 ???

Last winter brought unprecedented cold deep into the mid-west causing water line, sewer line and water tower freeze ups.  While the trees are still a blaze of red, orange and gold now is the time to consider some “golden rules” about informing your residents and business owners on what they can do to lower the possibility of a freeze up in their lateral water lines. 

It’s also a good time for policy makers to contemplate what another hard winter might bring.  In the next 3 blogs I’ll share comments from our Property/Casualty Claims department and the head of the League’s Research department.  I’ll share a sample waiver and ordinance for water line thawing from our Loss Control Risk Management Attorney and provide links to a couple equipment resources with which we at the League are familiar. 

Now is the time for policy makers and department heads to make some decisions about how the city will address such things as letting water run to prevent freeze ups, or having city employees thaw lateral lines.  Here are some considerations from the head of the League of Minnesota Cities’ Research department.

Jeanette Behr….
Reducing utility bills due to constantly running water:
If your city is again faced with residents having frozen water lines and asks residents to run water, please consider adopting a policy before reducing utility bills. Decisions made pursuant to a policy protect the city. Tax dollars must only be spent for public purposes. In theory, if a city asks some residents to run water to protect city infrastructure, the city may be able to reduce the charges accordingly and still meet the legal test that tax dollars be spent for a public purpose even if there is some private benefit to the individual resident.

Consider noting in the policy and council meeting minutes that running water in residences or businesses in certain parts of the city protects city infrastructure from expensive freezing and breaking. (It's best to target those areas of the city that have a history of freezing lines to limit the amount of water and tax dollars used.)

As a counterargument, many cities do not reduce utility bills for residents. Last winter, many cities chose this approach.  Still, these cities provided helpful information on city websites about ways residents could prevent frozen water lines and noted that the cost to run a small amount of water is much lower than paying to thaw out frozen lines

Thawing resident's lines (lateral lines)
The same questions come up if a city is thawing lines that are a customer's responsibility. (Let’s call these lateral lines.) If a city council decides to provide line thawing services, again, consider adopting a policy.  (See sample waiver and policy below.)

For example, if it's hard for your city to identify where lines are freezing, it may justify using tax dollars to help residents thaw out their lines. Document these concerns in meeting minutes and provide some evidence of frozen city water mainlines resulting from lateral line freeze ups if you can. 

Also, if the city is looking at multiple frozen lines in numerous houses there may be a general health, safety, welfare concern in having so many residents without drinkable water. It's best to work with the city attorney and get a written waiver from the property owner if your council feels it's necessary to send public workers onto private property to thaw frozen lateral lines.

Next up we’ll discuss claims caused last winter due to the use of electric welders.  

by Cheryl Brennan

(Frozen Water Laterals)

I, ____________________________________ (“Owner), am the owner of the residence located at _________________________________________ (Property Address),  ___________(City)  Minnesota (the “Property”).
As a result of cold weather conditions, the lateral water lines (the “Lines”) located on the Property have frozen.  I have requested the City of __________________________________(the “City”) for help in thawing the Lines.  I understand that the repair or thawing of the Lines is NOT the responsibility or obligation of the City of ______________________________________(the “City”).    I have, however, requested help from the City to thaw the Lines.  THE PURPOSE OF THIS WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND HOLD HARMLESS AGREEMENT IS TO ASSURE THE CITY THAT IT WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE, DIRECT OR INDIRECT, THAT I, THE PROPERTY OR ITS CONTENTS MAY INCUR, NOW OR IN THE FUTURE AS A RESULT OF THE WORK THE CITY PERFORMS ON THE PROPERTY IN THE COURSE OF ATTEMPTING TO THAW THE LINES.
I ACKNOWLEDGE that the process or procedure to be used by the City to attempt to thaw the lines, which may include the use of_________________________(name of equipment used), involves risk of damage to the Property, and that the City does not assure me or make any representations to me that damage will not occur to the Property or its contents as a result of the process or procedure used to attempt to thaw the lines.  The risks involved in the process or procedures that the City may use to attempt to thaw the lines include, but are not limited to, fire losses and claims for damage of any kind to buildings, appliances, electronics, etc.  I hereby represent that I am willing to accept all such risks, and to protect the City from such claims that may be made by me or others.
 I FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE that the City will not assist in the thawing of the Lines unless this WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND HOLD HARMLESS AGREEMENT is signed by me and delivered to the City prior to the City performing any such work on the Property. 
IN CONSIDERATION for help from the City to thaw the lines on the Property, I agree as follows:
I HEREBY RELEASE the City, it’s employees, officials and agents from any and all claims for damages that I or the Property or its contents may sustain or incur now or in the future as a direct or indirect result of the City’s attempt to thaw the lines, and I hereby waive any right of claim I may have, now or in the future, against the City, its employees, officials and agents as a result of any such damage that may result from that attempt.
I AGREE that neither I nor any other owner of the Property or its contents will make a claim, sue, or otherwise assert rights against the City, its employees, officials or agents for damages claimed to have resulted from the City’s attempt to thaw the lines.
I AGREE TO DEFEND AND HOLD HARMLESS the City, its employees, officials and agents from all claims, suits, judgments, damages, losses and expenses, including reasonable legal fees and costs arising in whole or in part from the work performed by the City in its attempt to thaw the lines. This waiver of liability does not waive liability for any injuries that I obtain as the result of willful, wanton or intentional misconduct by the City or any person acting on behalf of the City.


________________________________________________ Date of Signature ______________

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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Buidling Apps on your Smart Phone

Smart phones.  You love them, you hate them, or you love to hate them.  I tend to fall in to the “love to hate them” category most of the time. Seems like the longer you have one the more attached you get to the darn things. You feel naked if you forget to grab it when you leave the house. You are also always connected and accessible so you can never get away anymore.  Although, they sure can be handy once in a while. 

For example I have three Apps on my phone that I found are kind of cool in a nerdy sort of way. One is the DOT Emergency Response Guidebook. I used to carry around the actual guidebook in my car but could never find it when I wanted it. The App, which is free, has more information than the book and it is always with me as long as I have my phone. The App is good for the fact that in an emergency situation you have fast access to information on hazardous chemicals and how to deal with them.

The second App is a sound level meter app; there are several free ones out there, which is nice to have for checking noise levels on jobsites, in buildings, (concerts, parties etc….). It is admittedly not as accurate as a real sound level meter but is close enough to get an idea if the levels are high enough to require PPE. Also it is kind of fun to see how loud your kids can be and to show your spouse how ear splitting their rants can be during a heated debate/argument. Although, I don’t recommend the latter I found it only made things worse around my house, but I digress. Anyway, the sound level meter can be useful to spot check areas for noise levels as most people don’t have sound level meters readily available to them. And the App is free and I find myself using it more and more just to spot check areas.

The third App I have that I find the useful is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) ladder safety App that has an incline meter built in. The application from NIOSH is also:-)  free. The ladder safety application only covers straight/extension ladders and doesn’t relate to self-supporting step ladders but has good information on ladder safety and the incline meter is handy not only for ladders but other uses as well.  The app also has ladder safety topics on it such as selection, set up, proper use and accessories safety so it can be a good tool for that as well.

None of these apps are used every day but I use them often enough that I’m finding I’m liking my smart phone more than hating it these days. Oh and did I mention they are all free. They are available for both Apple and Non-Apple phones.

Emergency Response Guidebook
NIOSH's web site has a link to both Apple and Android versions at

Sound Level Meter
There are a bunch of apps for free sound level meters one is Sound Meter Pro by Mobile Essentials and another is Sound Meter by Smart Tools Co.
By Paul Gladen

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

OEM—Should You Manufacture Your Own Devices?

During our Spring Workshop presentation on ergonomic changes, we had a number of questions regarding the feasibility of manufacturing your own devices or modifying current devices to suit your purposes.  The questions ranged from increased liability to OSHA treatment to legal implications.  With these questions in mind, we have contacted OSHA and legal counsel to clarify and provide direction when manufacturing or modifying tools. 

OSHA Compliance

MN OSHA Consultation indicated that manufacturing or modifying tools can be acceptable; however it would depend on each specific instance.   When discussing this issue with OSHA, they indicated that you would need to be certain that the modified/manufactured tool or device meets the capacity that it is intended to perform.  A general rule of thumb would be that if you would not allow someone else to use it due to safety concerns, do not use it. 

When considering manufacturing or modifying devices or tools you should ask the following questions:

·         What is the worst case scenario if the device/tool failed?

·         How much pressure or force can the tool/device withstand?

·         What are the qualifications of the person making the modifications or fabricating the tool/device? (i.e. welders)

·         Does the modification alter the tool/device beyond the manufacturer specifications?

When looking at hoists or lifts, you would want an engineer to review the device to give a rating capacity based on the nature of these devices.  Also, keep in mind that any modified attachments, tools, or devices should be used in the manner for with they were intended. 

An example of a modified device would be using floor jacks to change wear blades on plow trucks.  When discussing with OSHA, they indicated that since the floor jack is originally intended to be used to lift objects there would be no issue with that specific use. 

Modified Floor Jack

Another example would be a drill attachment to open and close valves. 

Modified Drill Bit
This would be an acceptable device to manufacture or modify as the drill would continue to be used for the intended purpose. 
Legal Counsel Opinion

There is some increased risk of liability when a city creates its own tools or devices.

 If a city purchases a tool and it is defective, and an employee or third party is injured, the city may have a claim against the manufacturer, i.e., it can transfer liability to a third party.

 If the city creates the tool there is no way to transfer liability.  That doesn’t mean a city should not create its own tools but if it does, it should be very careful.

If an employee were injured, he or she would have a workers’ compensation claim which would likely preclude the employee from bringing a negligence action against the city.

 If a third party was injured, that third party would likely be able to bring a negligence claim against the city.

Ultimately, the city needs to assess the risk of injury (and likely seriousness of an injury) versus the problem that is being solved.  That assessment would include the city’s expertise to craft the tool, the cost, and whether a similar tool is available for purchase.

 All things being equal, it would be better that the city buys the tool or device if it can be purchased rather than have the city create its own tool.


When looking at the options for purchasing, modifying, or manufacturing tools and devices, you should look closely at what you would like the item to do and what the implications of each option would be.  This being said, you need to look at the cost of each option both upfront and potential costs due to the increased liability.

If you look at these costs and you are not certain which option would work best, you can contact OSHA Consultation 651-284-5060 to ask these questions and get their advice for your specific situation.  Another option would be to contact your LMCIT Loss Control Consultant to discuss your options. 

The bottom line is that your answer is going to be on a case by case basis and there is no right answer for all situations.   
By Tara Bursey

Monday, September 8, 2014

Low! Low! Low! Cost On-line Safety Training

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) invites you to attend a free webinar about on-line employee safety training.  Members have requested this kind of offering for a few years.  We're pleased to announce our partnership with First Net Learning,  Learn more and get your questions answered during a webinar created specifically for League members.  Head to our website and read more about FirstNetSafetyTraining .  Upcoming webinar dates are September 25th, October 8th and 22nd.

by Cheryl Brennan

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Accessing Vehicle for Repairs or Inspection

A previous blog focused on safety as it relates to getting in and out of equipment that is being operated, and reviewed the importance of using the “three points of contact” when entering and exiting the cab. Another area where cities experience slip/fall injuries is when equipment is being repaired or inspected.

You’ve probable done it yourself, climbed up on the dump box to see if the box is empty, or stood on a wheel to clean the windshield, both of these scenarios can and have led to slip/fall injuries. 

Whether it’s in the shop, or in the street, climbing on and around equipment can be dangerous. Fortunately, improvements have been made by manufactures, designing better steps and walkways on equipment, and by cities that utilize portable steps, wheel steps, built in steps or ladders to access equipment.        Joe Ingebrand

Friday, August 15, 2014

There’s an App for That!

Ever wonder if there was an easier way to find those pesky problem areas in your city?  There’s an app for that.  There are a number of apps designed to aid Public Works in tracking the areas that need repairs and/or attention. 

How does it work?
The most popular app is SeeClickFix.   The city would need to establish a portal with SeeClickFix, and then notify their residents of the availability.  The residents would have to download the app on their smart phone and report any issues to the Public Works Department.

What do the citizens report?
The citizens can report anything from downed trees or graffiti to potholes or sidewalk cracks via this app. 

Why do we need this?
With the diminishing resources we all deal with as a public entity, it is more important than ever to do more with less.  This creates more tasks for fewer people in less time, which then makes it more difficult for the Public Works Departments to identify all of the problem areas throughout the city.  The app can make the citizens their “eyes and ears”. 

Not a fan of the app?
There are a number of additional apps available that provide the same service as SeeClickFix.  Here is a short, but certainly not comprehensive list of the available apps:

By: Tara A. Bursey