Every year workers are killed or seriously injured while performing snow or ice removal from the rooftops of commercial, residential, and other building structures. Snow removal operations are often performed under extreme weather conditions by workers who may have little experience or training on the hazards of the job which is why having a safety manual can become very important.
Snow removal may be necessary to prevent overloading and collapse or for construction or repair of decking or roofs. Workers often climb directly onto the roofs or structures and use shovels, snow rakes, or snow blowers to remove ice and snow. Other times these operations are done from aerial lifts used to access roofs and apply de-icing materials, or from ground level using ladders and snow rakes.
Falls are the most common cause of worker fatalities and injuries during rooftop snow removal. Workers can fall off roofs, through skylights, or from ladders and aerial lifts.
In addition to falls, workers removing snow, face other significant hazards including:
- Injuries from using snow blowers and other mechanized equipment
- Collapses or tip-overs of aerial lifts
- Becoming engulfed by falling snow
- Being shocked/electrocuted from contacting power lines or using damaged extension cords
- Frostbite or hypothermia
- Musculoskeletal injuries
OSHA requires that employers plan and use the safe work practices to protect workers during snow removal activities. Before snow starts to accumulate, think about what will be needed to remove snow from roofs or other elevated surfaces safely:
- Can the snow be removed without workers going onto the roof?
- Are there any hazards on the roof that could become hidden by the snow and will need to be marked so that workers can see them (skylights, roof drains, vents, etc.)?
- How to remove snow based on the building’s layout to prevent unbalanced loading?
- Determine the maximum load limit the roof can handle, and compare that to the estimated combined weight of the snow, the removal equipment, and workers on the roof
- What tools, equipment, PPE, clothing, and footwear will workers need?
- What training will workers need?
- How will snow removal equipment be moved to the roof?
- How will you protect workers and others on the ground from the snow and ice being removed?
Remove Snow Without Going on the Roof
Whenever possible, use methods to clear ice and snow that don’t require workers to go on the roof, such as using ladders to apply de-icing materials or using snow rakes or draglines from the ground.
Use Required Fall Protection
Falls cause most of the deaths and severe injuries that occur during snow removal operations. OSHA requires employers to evaluate and protect workers from fall hazards when working at heights of 4 feet or more above a lower level (1910.23), 6 feet, or more for construction work (1926.501).
If workers must access roofs and other elevated surfaces to clear snow:
- Train them on fall hazards and the proper use of fall protection equipment,
- Ensure all workers use their fall protection equipment when removing snow in areas that are not adequately guarded
- Have workers put on their fall protection equipment before accessing the roof
- Have a written rescue plan in case a fallen worker becomes caught by a fall protection system
- Remove or mark rooftop or landscaping features that could present trip or fall hazards
Workers at ground level removing snow from the roof, and bystanders, can become trapped under snow falling from roofs and suffocate. Snow being removed for a roof can be dangerous. One cubic foot of dry snow weighs about seven pounds, while a cubic foot of wet snow weighs anywhere from 12 to 18 pounds. To protect personnel from removed snow:
- Identify a safe work zone in the area where snow is being removed to keep the public back 10 feet from where snow is expected to fall
- Instruct workers to wear eye and head protection when removing snow and ice.
- Instruct workers using snow rakes and draglines to remove only small amounts of snow at a time.
Effective planning and preparation can protect workers and the public from injuries during snow removal work.
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