Safety Considerations When Accessing Your Roof In The Winter

Two men shoveling snow off roof while tied off

Winter is coming.

Here in the Northeast, we are no stranger to snow and lots of it! With the accumulation of this white powder, additional risks are introduced when accessing your rooftop.

While this is true on any rooftop, I won't be focusing on your residence and the dangers of setting up Christmas lights. This article will be geared towards the everyday worker needing to access industrial rooftops for one reason or another.

Why would anyone go up on the roof in the winter?

Your reason will vary depending on your roof type, kinds of equipment, and scheduled/unexpected projects. Certain pipes need to be inspected daily. RTU’s need repairs or maintaining. Others are simply shoveling the snow off the roof.

Whatever the reason, the reality is that snow covers up your roof. Rooftops are dangerous enough as it is. However, with the introduction of reduced visibility and slick conditions, working at heights just became far more treacherous.

Before anyone goes on the roof in the winter, there are a few safety considerations that must be addressed.

Are You Wearing Appropriate Attire For The Temperature?

This question may give you flashbacks to when you were a child getting bundled up by your mom before going out sledding. However, being exposed to the elements with frigid temperatures and severe wind chills for a time can bring on pneumonia, frostbite, or worse.

The last thing you’d want is to be stuck on a rooftop without proper attire. It will also be important that your clothing aligns with the requirements of your PPE if necessary.

Are The Access Points Safe To Use?

Climbing a set of stairs or a ladder that is encased in ice is not only unpleasant, but it is also dangerous. This is likely not as much of issue when you access your roof from inside the building. However, it is common to have fixed ladders, ships ladders, and/or stairs giving you access to other areas on the roof.

If something does not look safe to climb, don’t. Wait until it is safe or find another means of access.

Are The Paths Clear Of Snow/Ice?

For larger flat roofs, walkway pads give employees a specific path in which to traverse around the rooftop. If these areas are covered with snow leaving them not visible or are subject to slips due to ice, your paths designed for safety are now no longer safe.

You will need to find a safe way to clear these areas or merely wait for a good thaw. It all depends on the urgency of work being done on your roof.

Are The Warning Lines Clearly Visible?

Warning line is designed to give you a visual barrier between you and the hazard. It is not intended to stop you in the case of a fall. If that line is not visible, it has lost most of its function.

According to 1910.29(d)(2)(iv), if your warning line is not visible at 25’, it is out of compliance with OSHA. Adding flags may help with visibility, however, consider an upgrade to your safety plan.

Are The Skylights Covered?

Skylights are often the most dangerous hazard on your roof. Add in a covering of snow, and you are asking for a disaster. Think about how quickly you could step on or trip over a curbed skylight.

Even worse, imagine you are working on a metal roof with skylight panels. Those are hard enough to see on a clear day.

Do Weather Conditions Allow For Clear Visibility?

This will be the most simple consideration and applicable to any day regardless of the time of the year. Lightning, heavy rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain, high winds, are all types of weather to avoid when working at heights.

We can’t have 80 degrees and sunny every day. We can, however, be prepared and make good decisions with our work schedule and the weather.

At the end of the day, someone needs to be able to:

  • Gain access to the roof safely.
  • Be able to walk to and from their destination with minimal risk.
  • Do their work with peace of mind.

Winter weather brings a lot of challenges to the workplace, especially here in the Northeast. However, that doesn’t need to stop you from getting your work done. Being mindful of the additional hazards introduced by snow, ice, and cold temperatures will help to keep you and your people safe this winter.

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