Your rooftop may seem like a quiet place during the winter months, but think again. Inclement weather means you or your facility manager might be tasked with the tedious job of snow removal. Working on a rooftop is precarious enough when the roof is clear, but when it’s blanketed with snow it becomes exponentially more risky. And if it’s a heavy load of snow, you’ll want to get that weight removed before it has time to do any damage to the integrity of your roof. Whether your workers are using shovels, snow rakes, or snow blowers, make sure you have your rooftop fall protection systems in place before you send them out there (and, ideally, before the first storm hits). One of the easiest ways to do this is with a guardrail fall protection system. Installing things as simple as a safety railing can take the worry out of the slips and trips that can occur, no matter what time of year it is.
What’s so dangerous about snow on the roof?
Well, a few things actually:
Slippery, Snowy Roof Conditions
Snow itself can be slippery, and if it’s deep enough, cumbersome to navigate through with a sure foot. Ice, obviously, is even more tricky—and there’s often a layer of ice beneath the snow that you can’t see. This makes snow removal a tricky prospect no matter what height your working on, but on the rooftop, it’s flat-out dangerous. Add in a sloped roof, and you’ve just upped the ante. If a worker slips, it can send them right to the leading edge. Preventing accidents like this is just a matter of installing the right guardrail fall protection, and if the circumstances call for it, OSHA-compliant personal fall protection. Putting a safety railing around the leading edge is a smart way to take the risk out of any and all routine maintenance tasks, but especially helpful when it comes to snow removal. If your roof is sloped, has multiple heights, or areas that need clearing beyond a guard rail, you might want to consider adding a safety life line into the mix.
Extra Weight from Snow Load
Snow can accumulate quickly, but depth is actually less important than weight. Snow that contains a high moisture content is a lot heavier and poses more challenges. While dry, fluffy snow weighs around seven pounds per cubic foot, dense, wet snow can weigh as much as twenty pounds or more. This not only makes it more difficult for your workers to remove the snow, it runs the risk of structural damage—even a roof collapse. On top of ensuring you have the right roof fall protection systems in place, you’ll want to makes sure your roof meets minimum snow load requirements. Any defects or weaknesses should be addressed before the snowy season sets in.
Often, the only way for workers to get onto a building’s roof is by climbing a fixed ladder that’s attached to the building. Snow and ice buildup can make this type of roof access dicey. OSHA requires that a ladder cage, well, or other ladder safety device is installed on any fixed ladder that is more than 20 feet in height. Cages and wells must be of rigid construction, and capable of handling a worker’s weight if they fall into it without failing. In addition, a safety life line or other personal fall protection device should be used.
Hidden Fall Hazards
Snow accumulation and drifts can obscure fall hazards such as skylights, rooftop entries, and other openings in the roof. When heavy snow loads are present and a worker accidentally steps on one of these weak points, they could fall through the opening, causing both injury to your worker and damage to your building. Guardrail fall protection is essential in this situation to prevent workers and their equipment from setting foot onto these areas. Additional warnings such as signs and warning flags are also a good idea to further protect workers from these difficult-to-see spots.
Snow Removal Equipment
The first hazard with snow removal equipment is actually transporting it to the roof, which of course should be done in the safest way possible. In addition, workers must be trained to safely use the equipment. These machines can cause injuries if they’re not used in a safe manner. For example, attempting to clear a clog in a snowblower while it’s still running is a recipe for disaster. In addition, the weight of a snowblower can cause a worker to slide off a rooftop if a guardrail fall protection device is not in place. A safety life line for both the worker and their equipment is a great way to prevent either from falling off the side of the roof.
Low Visibility & Temps
A sudden snow squall or burst of wind can reduce visibility, making it difficult for workers to see. What’s more, frigid temperatures can impair a person’s ability to properly move. In either case, a worker can end up in a threatening situation if they’re not careful. While it’s best to delay snow removal until the inclement weather passes, sometimes you can’t. This makes having rooftop fall protection systems in place all the more important.
Winter is Inevitable, Falls Don’t Have to Be
Before the depths of winter take hold, every industrial building owner and manager should develop a sound snow removal plan. This plan should include inspecting the rooftop and repairing any weak points. It should also include inspecting the rooftop fall protection systems currently in place, upgrading or replacing old ones, and installing new safety railing if necessary. Workers should also be trained on how to safely remove snow and how to use all of the rooftop fall protection devices at their disposal.
Since we can’t stop winter from coming, the only way to manage it is to be fully prepared. And that begins with the right roof fall protection devices. Need help finding OSHA-compliant rooftop safety for your industrial roof? Give us a call. We’re rooftop safety experts. Now good luck out there!