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Removing snow from roofs: get ahead of winter with a 10-step plan

Roof snow removal

Ontario winters can sweep in quickly and unexpectedly, and once here they can still be unpredictable, with extreme variations in snowfall and temperature. If snow and ice could accumulate on the roof of your business, be proactive. Preparing a snow removal plan now could make all the difference between a worry-free winter and a frantic, last-minute response that could expose people to injuries, and your business to liability and loss.

"During a storm is not the time to improvise a snow removal plan," advises WSPS consultant Steve Zronik. "Your people could be removing snow in the worst possible conditions."

Why you need to plan

Seeking a rationale for putting a plan together? Consider this:

  • excessive weight loads can cause roof collapse, jeopardizing the safety of anyone on site and the health of your business
  • freeze/thaw cycles can exacerbate existing defects and compromise the integrity of your roof membrane

What to include in your plan

WSPS Network News asked Steve Zronik and John Jordan, senior project manager for Nedlaw Roofs, for their insights. Here's what they told us.

  1. Know your roof load limit and build your plan around it. If you don't know the load limit, have a civil or structural engineer inspect the roof. Compare the limit to the estimated weight of the snow, the removal equipment, and workers on the roof.
  2. Conduct a hazard assessment. "Treat it like any other job hazard," says Zronik. Figure out what could go wrong, and how great the risk is, then use this information to prioritize your next steps.
  3. Map the site. "Knowing where all the roof penetrations are and where to deposit rooftop snow on the ground is priceless information," says John Jordan. Take digital photos. They'll give you a quick visual reference when you need it.
  4. Prepare the site. "Cordon off skylights, gas lines and other obstacles that snow may hide," says Jordan. Also, remove anything that doesn't need to be there.
  5. Figure out what snow removal and personal protective equipment you'll need. Jordan recommends shovels and scoops over snowblowers and other motorized equipment. "They aren't very congenial with fall prevention lines and ropes, gas lines, plumbing stacks," he says. Inspect your equipment now and make repairs or replace if necessary. Ensure you have the right fall protection equipment for the job, and that employees wear clothing suitable to the weather and working conditions, e.g., head protection, mittens/gloves, insulated footwear, sunglasses, etc.
  6. Determine how many people you'll need. Make allowances for winter holidays, illnesses and other factors that could affect your head count.
  7. Arrange for whatever specialized training workers will need, such as working at heights. "Provide as much training as possible so that workers can approach every situation safely," says Jordan. "If you're hiring new employees," says Zronik, "ensure they successfully complete worker health and safety awareness training and any other training required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act."
  8. Create pre- and post-snow removal inspection checklists, to ensure workers have everything they need before going on the roof, and to identify and repair any changes to the roof after the snow has been removed.
  9. Have the equipment ready and people trained before the first snowfall.
  10. Devise a written rescue plan in case a worker falls and becomes suspended in a fall arrest system.

Hiring a snow removal service?

If you're hiring a service instead of using your own people, the above suggestions can help you assess prospective service providers. "You need to have confidence that your service provider will do the job safely," says Zronik. "If they're not up to the job, you could be held liable."

Everyone involved needs to be clear on who is undertaking the work, what each of the parties associated with the work are responsible for. This ensures compliance and helps keep everyone safe.

How WSPS can help

WSPS consultants can help you develop a snow removal plan and identify training needs. If you're contracting out, WSPS offers three essential courses on working with contractors:

If you're not familiar with Ontario's new working at heights training requirements, read this article: