10 tips for safe snow removal

As the weather gets colder, many of us will soon find our workplaces and jobsites covered in snow. Removal becomes important for preventing structural collapses or for construction crews repairing roofs or decks. Serious injuries and even death can result from accidents involved in snow removal. Most of these accidents will be due to falls off or through roofs or skylights.

Below are 10 tips to help workers stay safe while clearing snow off surfaces.

1. Whenever possible, use snow removal methods that do not require workers to climb onto roofs. For example, work crews may be able to use drag lines or snow rakes from the ground to remove snow. They might also use ladders to apply de-icing substances to the roof.

2. To prevent collapse, figure out how much weight the roof can hold before workers stand on it. Snow load is the weight of the snow, which varies based on a number of factors including water content and drifting.

3. To further prevent collapse when raking or shoveling snow, evenly remove the snow from the roof and avoid creating large snow piles.

4. Require work crews to use fall protection equipment such as a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) that includes a full-body harness, lanyard, connectors, and appropriate anchors. Workers should put this equipment on and buckle it firmly while still on the ground.

5. Train and monitor workers to ensure safe use of aerial lifts or ladders. An affordable way to ensure workers receive clear and thorough information is to use safety training videos or DVDs, such as Fall Prevention for Construction Workers.

6. Each season, before workers operate snow blowers, make sure they review the manufacturer’s instructions for safe use.

7. Be aware of workers on the ground that could be injured or suffocated by falling snow piles.

8. Be careful of power lines. To avoid being electrocuted, workers should always assume power lines are electrified and maintain a distance of at least 10 feet from all lines.

9. Two conditions that can occur due to exposure to extreme cold during snow removal are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is damage to the skin and tissue from the cold. Hypothermia results when a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Both conditions are very dangerous, so workers should wear warm protective clothing and pay attention to how their body is reacting to the cold. Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and certain medications can also help to prevent frost bite and hypothermia.

10. Avoid overexertion. Snow removal can be strenuous and working in cold weather can be extremely stressful on the body. These conditions combine to create the potential for a number of hazards including exhaustion, dehydration, heart attacks, back injuries, and falls. Workers can prevent these by moving small amounts of snow at a time, using proper lifting techniques, taking frequent breaks, staying hydrated, and operating snow blowers at modest speeds.

Employers can use snow removal activities as opportunities to review, update, and train workers on fall prevention programs and procedures. Falls are one of the leading causes of traumatic injury and death in the workplace, but with the proper training, safety products, and practices, workers can avoid rooftop falls, collapses, and other snow-related hazards.

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