Alert: Snow loading and roof failures
Learn about safety precautions around snow removal to prevent roof failures and structural damage from heavy snow.
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Heavy snow can cause roof failures and structural damages. The roofs of many buildings in Ontario may be carrying a greater weight of snow than they were designed for. Structural damage or collapse from heavy snow and ice could result in workers or others in and around a building being injured or killed.
A cubic foot of snow can weigh from seven pounds for snow that is new and dry to 30 pounds for old, compacted snow. Rain falling on accumulated snow will add even more weight. Drifting snow may put excessive loads on the areas where it piles up, for example against equipment or penthouses or at walls between roof levels.
When snow removal is necessary, it should be remembered that unsafe procedures may cause a collapse. It should also be remembered that workers on a roof must have adequate fall protection and that workers and others nearby can be injured by snow being dumped from a roof.
Locations and sectors
All areas where snow has been accumulating. All sectors.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires an employer to ensure that any part of a building or structure, or any other part of a workplace (including a roof), "is capable of supporting any loads that may be applied to it as determined by the applicable design requirements established under the version of the Building Code that was in force at the time of its construction" [s. 25(1)(e)]. The Regulations for Industrial Establishments require that materials be moved in such a way and with such precautions and safeguards that the safety of workers is not endangered [Reg. 851, s. 45].
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development makes the following recommendations:
- Owners of workplaces and/or employers at workplaces where there is snow on the roof of buildings should have the roofs assessed by a professional engineer to determine whether
- the snow load is significant, or
- there are any visible signs of structural distress, for example, twisting, bending or cracking.
- If snow is excessive or a roof shows signs of distress, the owner or employer should implement a safe snow removal procedure.
- A snow removal operation should avoid producing any uneven or concentrated loading on the roof.
- Areas onto which snow will be dumped from a roof should be secured to prevent access.
Also, workers on a roof must use fall-arrest or travel-restraint equipment in accordance with the fall-protection requirements of the Regulations for Industrial Establishments [R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 851, s. 85].
A civil or structural engineer should be consulted: (1) to determine whether snow loads are excessive; (2) to determine whether there are signs of structural distress; (3) to obtain a removal procedure that will not cause more structural problems; or (4) to reinforce a structure that is overstressed.
This resource does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations, and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.