6 Questions to Ask Before Removing Snow from your Property


As the holidays wind down, winter weather will continue to ramp up as it does each year in many parts of the U.S. Some areas have already been hit hard, and the promise looms that more snow and ice will blanket many regions once again across the country.

Snow and other precipitation in the Northeast is expected to rival that of a record-shattering year last year as winter gains momentum in January and February.

For apartments, a heavy snowfall can be particularly damaging and dangerous. Such was the case for many structures in Western New York counties where a record seven-foot snow caused nearly $50 million in damage earlier this year. Roofs on homes and businesses caved in from the weight of snow, prompting the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to approve a federal disaster designation that will help folks get back on their feet.

Protecting an asset from heavy snow often is not that easy, and digging out is often a risky proposition.

Each year, workers are killed or seriously injured while removing snow or ice from rooftops, decks and other building structures to prevent overloading or collapse. OSHA has investigated 16 such serious injuries or fatalities in the last decade that could have been prevented, says the United States Department of Labor (USDL). Falling off roof edges, through skylights and from ladders and aerial lifts are some of the most common ways workers are injured or killed.

The USDL and other sources offer some helpful tips that property owners can consider when planning for snow removal. Before the storm arrives and snow begins to accumulate, building owners and managers should think about what will be needed to safely remove snow from roofs or other elevated surfaces. Here are some questions that the USDL recommends you ask:

Can snow be removed without workers going on the roof?

De-icing materials and extended snow rakes or drag lines are typically used to remove snow from roofs and can sometimes be done so without going onto the roof. Snow rakes usually have a long blade designed not to damage shingles while removing snow. In some cases, a de-icing system consisting of a heating element can be installed on the structure during construction to minimize snow buildup on roofs, valleys and eaves.

Are there hidden hazards on the roof that need to be marked?

According to Occupational Safety & Health Administration, falls are the leading cause for most worker fatalities and injuries during rooftop snow removal. In addition to falling off roof edges and from ladders and aerial lifts, working can fall through skylights, roof drains and vents. These should be identified before workers are allowed on roofs.

How should the snow be removed to prevent unbalanced loading?

Considering the load – the weight of the snow, workers and equipment used – and the load limit of the roof is essential. But trying to determine how much snow a roof can withstand is not easy. Flat and slightly pitched roofs are most vulnerable to heavy accumulations. A goal should be to lessen the load on the roof, not necessarily remove all the snow. Do so by uniformly removing snow and avoid making big piles.

What will workers need to safely remove snow?

Workers should wear appropriate fall protection equipment and clothing. Ladders may be used to access rooftops for snow removal, but USDL advises that workers should not use a snow rake or shovel while working from the ladder to prevent falling.

Also, exposure to cold and physical exertion during snow removal can cause injury and illnesses. Workers should protect against frostbite and hypothermia by wearing appropriate warm clothing. Excessive physical exertion can cause exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries and heart attacks, which can lead to falls.

Scoop or push small amounts of snow at a time, and use proper former for lifting. Take frequent breaks and drink fluids.

What fall protection equipment will be needed?

A fall arrest system typically involves a full body harness, anchor point and a connector that protects the worker from falling. Anchor points must be able to support at least 5,000 pounds for each worker attached, according to OSHA guidelines.

How can snow removal equipment be safely elevated to the roof?

Equipment such as snow blowers help remove snow but can cause injury if not properly used. Raise materials like snow blowers and other snow removal equipment using lifts, winches, pull ropes or other related equipment. Snow blowers should not be overloaded, and operated at a modest speed.

Removing snow is not an easy proposition. Apartments should take extreme caution with their maintenance staffs when trying to thin a snowfall from the asset, or call and experienced snow removal specialist.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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