Do’s and don’ts for safely removing snow from your roof

As we move into the first week of March, several parts of the country are facing snow and ice storms on top of large snow totals, making snow removal from roofs an ongoing concern.

Removing snow completely from a roof surface can result in serious damage to the roof covering and possibly lead to leaks and additional damage, according to the Snow Load Safety Guide, published as part of the Risk Management Series by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA says that at least two inches of snow should be left on the roof.

Most of the time, it’s better to leave the snow alone if you can, because removing it can pose a risk to the workers and the structure. But if you do have to get the snow off the roof, here are some tips from FEMA for removing snow safely and effectively:

Don’t use mechanical snow removal equipment. The risk of damaging the roof membrane or other rooftop items outweighs the advantage of speed.

Don’t use sharp tools, such as picks, to remove snow. Use plastic rather than metal shovels.

Do remove drifted snow first at building elevation changes, parapets and around equipment.

Do remove any snow remaining after you’ve removed drifts from the center portion of the roof.

Do remove snow in the direction of the primary structural elements on the roof to prevent unbalanced snow loading.

Don’t stockpile snow on the roof.

Do dispose of removed snow in designated areas on the ground.

Do keep snow away from building exits, fire escapes, drain downspouts, ventilation openings and equipment.

Do remove snow starting at the ridge and moving toward the eave for gable and sloped roofs whenever possible.

Do use a non-metallic rake for steep snow roofs if possible to avoid damage to roofing materials.

Workers throwing snow from roof into parking lot below.

(AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

Worker safety

Do remove snow from the ground whenever possible removing the risk to workers on a hazardous roof.

Do require your workers to use roof fall arrest harnesses where applicable and follow all safety protocols from OSHA.

Do have someone below the roof to keep foot traffic away from locations where falling snow or ice could cause injuries.

Do be sure someone confirms that the area below the removal site is free of equipment that could be damaged by falling snow or ice.

Do be careful of dislodged icicles whenever you’re removing snow from a roof because an icicle falling from even a short height can still cause damage or injury.

Do be prepared for roof snow to slide while you’re using a roof rake, and stay a safe distance away from the eave of the roof to be sure you’re out of sliding range.

Do make workers aware of rooftop hazards like skylights, vent pipes or other low objects that might be buried by significant snowfall.

Mar 02, 2015 | By Rosalie L. Donlon

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