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Alert Follows Roof-Clearing Deaths

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

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Multiple reports of severe and fatal falls during rooftop snow removal have prompted a federal advisory on tackling such work safely.

Digging out from the winter of 2015 can be a life-threatening task, especially when the work is occurring at heights, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns.

OSHA is investigating at least one fatal and several serious falls through snow-laden skylights.

Sutton Police Department

Roofs across New England were devastated by relentless winter snowstorms. The roof of a shopping mall failed Feb. 18 in Sutton, MA. Evacuations were ordered ahead of time.

Two people were killed and a third was seriously injured in one week in late February from falls from or through snowy roofs in Canton, MA, the Associated Press reported.

The two fatality victims were both workers; the other victim, a homeowner, fell from her own roof.

In Westwood, MA, a teenager survived a 25-foot fall through a skylight while clearing the snow off of a commercial building, according to another report by The Boston Globe.

Hidden Hazards

"A surface that is weighed down by snow may be at risk of collapsing, so it must be inspected by a competent person to determine if it is structurally safe for workers to access it," OSHA told employers and workers in a notice last week.

"Snow-covered rooftops can hide hazards such as skylights that workers can fall through. Electrical hazards may also exist from overhead power lines or snow removal equipment."

Wellesley Police Department

A porch roof in Wellesley, MA, collapsed under the weight of the area's record snow.

The winter has unloaded a snowy, icy siege on the U.S. Northeast, with numerous roof collapses and other structural damage reported in the last month in Massachusetts alone, state officials say.

Falls cause the most deaths and injuries among workers doing rooftop snow removal, according to OSHA.

The hazards include slippery surfaces, suffocation under shifting snow drifts, electrocution hazards from extension cords or contact with power lines, frostbite, and unstable lifts and ladders.

Off the Roof

To prevent injury, OSHA advises that workers try whenever possible to clear ice and snow without going on the roof. For examples, deicing agents may be applied from ladders, and snow rakes and drag lines can be used from the ground.


OSHA advises removing snow from a lift or from the ground whenever possible.

Employers are advised to plan ahead for snow removal. They should make themselves aware of load limits on roofs (factoring in the snow, the removal equipment and the workers) and map rooftop hazards such as skylights, vents and drains.

Fall protection is always required when workers are at six feet or higher.

For more information, see the OSHA Hazard Alert.



Tagged categories: Fall protection; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Roofing contractors

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