OSHA Issues Alert on Snow Removal Safety After Falls

By Roy Maurer

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) urges employers and workers to be aware of the hazards involved when removing snow from rooftops and other structures after several incidents of workers falling through skylights, one resulting in a fatality.

Falls from roofs, falls through skylights and falls from aerial lifts are the major concerns OSHA cites after the massive accumulation of snow from multiple storms during the winter of 2014-2015.

At least six people fell through snow-covered skylights in New England last year, including a worker in Canton, Mass., who fell 40 feet to his death Feb. 22, 2015.

“Employers need to take precautions, assess hazards, ensure workers are trained and properly equipped and safeguards are in place before they go up on a roof to remove snow,” said Ted Fitzgerald, regional director for public affairs at OSHA. “One factor to consider is whether there are any hazards on the roof—such as skylights—that might become hidden by the snow and need to be marked so that workers can see them,” he said. OSHA recommends marking such hazards ahead of time if snow accumulation is to be expected.

Snow removal is typically a maintenance activity regulated under OSHA’s general industry standards, except for when snow must be removed during construction work, when OSHA’s construction standards apply.

Hazards of the Job

Snow removal work—such as preventing snow overload, or during construction or repair operations—is often performed under extreme weather conditions by workers with little experience or training, according to OSHA.

Based on agency investigations, most workers are killed or injured from falls during rooftop snow removal. Besides fall hazards, workers face other significant hazards including structural collapses, aerial lift tip-overs, shock/electrocution hazards from contacting power lines, frostbite or hypothermia, and musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion.

Preventing Falls

OSHA recommends employers protect their workers from these hazardous work conditions by using snow-removal methods that do not involve workers actually being on roofs, if possible, as well as evaluating weight loads, requiring fall protection, and ensuring that workers use ladders and aerial lifts safely.

“Whenever possible, use methods to clear ice and snow without workers going on the roof,” the agency advises. For example, workers can use ladders to apply de-icing materials or use snow rakes or drag lines from the ground. OSHA advises against using rakes or shovels from ladders, as workers could lose their balance and fall.

It is imperative to take caution when raking a roof to prevent unbalanced loading of the roof. OSHA advises removing snow uniformly across the roof and avoiding making snow piles on the roof.

It’s also important to remember that OSHA standards require employers to evaluate hazards and protect workers with fall protection when working at heights of four feet or more above a lower level, or six feet or more for construction work. Fall protection includes personal fall arrest systems and guardrails.

Avoid Electrical Hazards

To protect workers from electrical hazards such as electrocution and electric shock from power lines, employers should always treat power lines, wires and other conductors as energized, even if they are down or appear to be insulated, according to OSHA.

Workers are required to maintain a distance of at least 10 feet from any power line, and make sure that all electrically powered equipment is grounded. When using aerial lifts, workers should maintain a minimum clearance of at least 10 feet away from the nearest energized overhead lines.

Body Strain

Snow removal can be strenuous and can create the potential for exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries or heart attacks. Tips to minimize overexertion for workers include:

  • Moving small amounts of snow at a time, especially if snow is wet and heavy.
  • Using proper lifting form—keeping the back straight and lifting with the legs.
  • Taking frequent breaks and drinking fluids, however, avoiding caffeine or alcohol.

Protect People on the Ground

Workers standing on the ground must also be protected during snow removal operations.

Employers should mark a safe work zone—keeping people back 10 feet from the point where snow is expected to be blown or fall—and require eye and head protection, especially when removing ice.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy



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