Every year, workers are killed or seriously injured while performing snow or ice removal from rooftops and other building structures, such as decks.

Snow removal is performed for a number of reasons, such as to prevent overloading and collapse, or for construction or repair of decking or roofs. Often workers climb directly onto the roofs or structures and use equipment such as shovels, snow rakes, snow blowers, ladders, etc. Other times these operations may be performed from the ground level using snow rakes. Aerial lifts are sometimes used to access roofs and apply de-icing materials. Snow removal operations are often performed under extreme weather conditions (e.g., cold, high winds, icy surfaces). Workers who perform these activities may have little experience or training on the hazards of such operations or work.

Workers performing snow removal operations are exposed to many serious hazards.  Based on OSHA investigations falls cause the most worker fatalities and injuries during rooftop snow removal. Workers may fall off roof edges, through skylights, and from ladders and aerial lifts. Workers may also be injured or killed by a roof collapse. OSHA requires that employers plan ahead and use the proper protective measures to protect workers engaging in snow removal activities. This includes snow removal by workers from commercial and  residential buildings, flat roofs and pitched roofs.  

Preventing Falls during Snow Removal – Working on a roof with snow, ice, or wind carries a risk of a fall onto the  roof, or a fall off the roof to the ground below or through a snow-covered skylight, all of which are often fatal.  Therefore, employers should protect their workers from these hazardous work conditions by:

  • Using snow removal methods that do not involve workers on roofs, such as snow rakes or drag lines from the ground and / or use ladders to apply de-icing materials.
  • Evaluating loads exerted on roof or structure (e.g., total weight of snow, workers and equipment used), compared to the load limit of the roofs.
  • Requiring that workers use fall protection equipment.
  • Ensuring that workers use ladders and aerial lifts safely.
  • Beware of dangers of electrical, mechanical and utility lines      

Evaluate Load Bearing on the Roof or Structure – Before workers access a roof or other elevated structure, the employer should confirm that the workers weight and any equipment used can be supported by the roof or structure without causing a collapse. Workers should always use caution by remaining alert to unexpected sounds or movement around surfaces that have been weighed down by snow (or water from melted snow), because these surfaces could collapse.  Shoveling or raking a roof without using the proper procedures can also increase the risk of roof collapse by creating an unbalanced load on the roof. To prevent unbalanced loading during snow removal, workers should remove snow uniformly across the roof and avoid making snow piles on the roof.

Plan Ahead for Safe Snow Removal from Roofs – Before snow starts to accumulate identify what will be needed to safely remove snow from roofs or other elevated surfaces. Mark out any hazards on the roof that might be hidden by the snow so that workers can see them any skylights, roof drains, vents, electrical wires, etc. Think about what tools, equipment, protective devices, clothing and footwear workers will need and how to access and get mechanized snow removal equipment safely elevated to the area or roof. Ensure that fall protection gear and safety rails are available and used to protect workers on roofs and other elevated surfaces.