In many parts of the country, winter is typically synonymous with snow, and the winter of 2014-2015 seems to have taken that concept and run with it. Once the allure of a new snowfall has worn off, facility managers are often left with literal mountains of snow to remove from the building and grounds.
Not only can accumulated snow create inconvenience by narrowing walkways, it can also be a hazard if allowed to collect on roofs, and can even cause costly damage. Snow removal during this season is a must, but it's important to do so in a safe way. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Know the threats
The first step to keeping workers safe during snow removal is to know what dangers they may face. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the No. 1 cause of injury and death when it comes to snow removal is gravity. It's not uncommon for staff removing snow and ice from roofs to fall off the edge or even through a skylight. Additionally, it should go without saying that cold-weather protection should be a principal concern, especially in areas where temperatures dip to sub-freezing levels.
2. Know your roof
If you're intimately familiar with your roof, it's easier to reduce the risk of accidents caused by unforeseen factors. For example, OSHA recommended familiarizing yourself with things like the maximum load allowance that your roof can support - taking the weight of all the snow and ice into account, of course. If there are any vents, gutters, skylights or any other irregularities that could pose tripping hazards, make sure any staff assigned to roof duty knows where they are. It's easy for such things to be buried or obscured by snow, and unaware maintenance staff can trip over them.
3. Avoid heights, if possible
One easy way to make sure workers don't take a tumble off of your roof is to not have them go up there in the first place. Based on the amount of snowfall you've received, the shape of your roof and other factors, it may be possible to clear the majority of snow and ice from the ground. OSHA suggested that snow rakes can be used to clear space along the roof closer to the eaves, or to knock off hanging icicles that have formed. If you need to apply deicer to prevent more ice from forming, consider doing so from a ladder rather than the roof itself.
4. Don't let it pile up
Removing 2 inches of snow is far easier and safer than trying to shovel 18 inches off of a roof. While light flurries may not seem like cause for a pressing building maintenance operation like snow clearing, keep in mind that snow can accumulate more quickly than you might expect. Worse, as new snow falls, the snow underneath it may freeze, creating a hardened layer of ice that's even more difficult to remove. Don't wait until snow accumulation becomes a problem before addressing removal.
5. Practice proper lifting form
Just like lifting boxes or heavy equipment, moving large amounts of snow can pose a hazard to those who don't use proper technique. You wouldn't attempt a difficult physical task without stretching or warming up your muscles first, and you should adhere to the same practice when snow is involved. In fact, since snow removal takes place out in the cold, it's even more important to keep your muscles warm. Additionally, the same lifting methods you use indoors apply outside - lift with your legs, not your back. Procuring an ergonomically designed snow shovel can help encourage these proper techniques.