by | Construction, General Liability, Safety, Small Business |

Winter weather in New England is notorious for wreaking havoc with building roofs. A business owner may potentially avoid costly repairs or replacement if he or she follows basic tips for proactive roof care and winter hazard prevention.

Generally speaking, it’s not the snowflakes that collapse a building, power lines or a tree. It’s the excessive water content that builds within the crystalline structure of the snow as it morphs from snowflakes, to pellets, to ice. Snow storms that have strong winds also pose a potential problem because they blow snow around, causing snow drifts that can distribute the snow on a roof unequally, which can result in stress on the building’s structure.

What are some signs of a building nearing collapse?

  • Doors and windows become difficult to open
  • Roof leaks develop
  • Cracks in wall, creaks occurring, sprinkler heads show below ceiling tiles more than usual
  • Noticeable sagging in the ceiling

If the building is near collapse, it is critical to consider your employees’ safety before addressing any potential property damage.

How you can prepare your buildings:

  • Have someone knowledgeable inspect the roof. Be sure they consider the condition of the roof, including both the surface materials and the structures that support it. The underside of the roof should also be evaluated.
  • Reinforce buildings that need additional support.  Some buildings that are open from the floor to the underside of the roof can be “sticked.” That is where a pole is run from the underside of the roof to a supporting structure in the floor.
  • Install a steel roof covering on low sloped roofs.
  • Identify low sloped roofs and train employees to watch for stress indicators.
  • Identify areas that collect snowdrifts due to building and roof configurations and train employees to watch areas for quick snow removal.

Determine how much your roof can handle:

  • Do you know the design of your roof structure?
  • Do you have a way to know how much the snow weighs in your area?
  • What is your plan to monitor the snowpack on your roofs?

Generally speaking, the states in the southern portions of the Northeast may only have a roof design of 25lbs/square foot (SF) while those in the northern reaches can exceed 80lbs/SF. If you’re concerned, consult with your local structural engineer as they can assist in determining the correct design. Also, partial collapses do occur and these can be just as costly as a total collapse, so consider the value of your inventory, length of business interruption, and time involved to repair the structure.

Working with a qualified roofing contractor:

Shoveling roofs can carry risk and expose your company to numerous different losses that can significantly impact your bottom line. Hiring a professional roofing company can have benefits that often far outweigh the upfront cost. These benefits include:

  • A professional roofing company is experienced in judging when a roof needs to be shoveled and is typically equipped to quickly and efficiently remove the snow from the roof before it causes damage to your building.
  • If the roofing material sustains damage during shoveling, such as a tear in the membrane or hole in the metal, a roofing company is qualified to fix it immediately, thereby preventing or minimizing any leaking. If your employees unintentionally damage the roof, it is less likely that it could be fixed immediately and may void your warranty on the roofing material.
  • From a worker safety standpoint, roof shoveling would fit into the category of non-routine tasks for most, if not all of your employees. Non-routine tasks are consistently a source of serious injuries to employees, because they are performing a job that is outside their expertise. A roofing contractor who performs this type of work regularly should be able to safely perform the job with an expertise that comes from experience.

If contractors are used for snow clearance, be sure your attorney has reviewed any applicable contract for legal duties, insurance requirements, and hold harmless and indemnification clauses to help protect you and your business. In most cases, roofing companies have a team of people that specialize in roof maintenance and shoveling. They can develop a program designed to service your roof throughout the winter so you never have to think about it which allows you the time to worry about the things that are important to your business’ success.

Other things to consider when it comes to snow removal are:

  • Equipment should be located where it can be conveniently accessed and safely moved to the roof, if not already staged there.
  • If you have mechanized snow-removal equipment, make sure your employees have read all operations instructions, are adequately trained on usage, have practiced using the equipment before the snow flies, and are competent to operate the equipment.
  • Appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) should be available and be pre-staged. Examples include: cold weather gear, eye protection if materials might ricochet, fall protection equipment with tie off points and slip resistant footwear or cleats.
  • Secure and maintain detailed drawings showing locations of all drains, skylights, and other openings that may pose a danger to someone attempting to clear a snow loaded roof. Many accidents have happened due to snow cover hiding hazards, or when someone not familiar with the hidden hazards steps on a skylight.  All skylights should meet fall resistant standard, or have appropriate guards.
  • When removing snow from a roof, pay careful attention to potential electrical hazards from power lines and any extension cords which might be used.

Certain winters will challenge buildings and people more than others.

The key is to prepare, monitor, evaluate, and take action on a timely basis. If you have determined the design of the roof structure and that the snow loading is nearing or exceeding the design, the roof should be cleared in a timely manner. Waiting for a forecast of more snow, ice, and rain may be the difference between losing your structure and contents versus having a non-event.

For more information, please contact your Loss Control Representative or the Acadia Insurance Virtual Loss Control Team at 1-800-870-1170 ext. 5701.

Acadia is pleased to share this material for the benefit of its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing herein should be construed as either legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.

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