Whether you’re on a construction site or in your home, removing snow from an elevated surface can be potentially hazardous. Every year, workers are killed or seriously injured while performing snow or ice removal from rooftops and other building structures, such as decks. During the winter, construction work requires special consideration. Weather extremes, such as high winds, cold temperatures, ice, snow, sleet, and freezing rain, present potential hazards to workers.

Evaluate Load Bearing on the Roof or Structure before workers attempt to remove snow.

Workers should remove snow uniformly so the extra weight of the snow doesn’t cause the roof to collapse by creating an unbalanced load. Workers need to remain cautious of strange sounds and movements while removing snow from an elevated surface.  If possible, always try to remove the snow without having to get on the roof.

Before that snow falls plan ahead.

  • Are there any hazards on the roof that might be hidden by snow? (Skylights, Drains, Vents, etc)
  • Based on the buildings layout, what is the safest method of removing the snow to avoid unbalanced loading?
  • What Tools, Clothing, PPE, and fall protection do workers need to safely remove snow. What training do workers need?

Use the required fall protection.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the number one cause of death during snow removal is falling.  Working on elevated surfaces are dangerous enough, throw in some snow, ice, and high winds and you have a recipe for disaster.  OSHA requires that employers provide the proper fall protection to employees if they are working on elevated surfaces of 6 feet.  If you’re removing snow from the roof of your house, chances are you don’t have a safety supervisor on site to ensure you’re working according to regulations.  So it’s up to you to use your best judgement and work as safe as possible.

Make sure that workers know the route and method they should use to get up and down from a roof in a way that minimizes the risk of falling.

The first step in snow removal usually starts with securing a good sturdy ladder.  There are a few things to consider before you allow your employees to climb that ladder.

  • Make sure that all snow and ice is removed from the ladder and workers shoes.  
  • Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder
  • Extend the ladder 3 feet above the upper level (i.e., the roof). If not possible, use ladder rail extensions and secure the ladder to prevent it from slipping or tipping.
  • Keep the centerline of the body inside the ladder rails. Do not lean or reach so that the body extends outside the rails—this position is unstable and could lead to a fall.

Use extreme caution when working near power lines. Always treat power lines, wires and other conductors as energized, even if they are down or appear to be insulated.

If you look up a list of “famous pairs” or “Things that go well together” you’ll find the usual suspects like spaghetti and meatballs, peanut butter and jelly, or Toews and Kane.  But there is one pairing that you’ll never see, and that is “snow and an active power line”.  It’s incredibly dangerous for employees to work around an active power line on a good day, but you throw in nature’s most powerful conductor (snow or ice) and you’ll find yourself in a real sticky situation.  

  • Maintain a distance of at least 10 feet from any power line
  • Make sure that all electrically powered equipment is grounded
  • If servicing equipment becomes necessary, isolate the energy following lockout/tagout procedures

Avoid coffee and alcohol

Drinking coffee in the morning is the usual routine for a lot of workers no matter what the weather conditions,but having coffee or alcohol can increase heart rates and give workers a false sense of warmth. Encourage workers to drink water or sports drinks.

Educate workers on signs of frostbite and hypothermia

Even when temporary staffing agencies employ their best safety practices, issues may still arise. Supervisors and workers need to know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite so that medical attention can be given right away in the event of a worker showing signs or symptoms of either condition.