Working in Winter Conditions: What Should You Be Aware of to Stay Safe on a Roof?

Build Your Business
Author: Amy Freeman | February 10, 2021

Generally speaking, cold temperatures, slippery conditions and roofing don't exactly get along. Working in winter conditions isn't ideal for most roofing contractors. But emergency situations can arise when a customer needs a roof repair or even replacement in the dead of winter. If your company offers emergency service, or if you want to keep some projects going during the winter months, it's essential that you know what to do to keep yourself and your team as safe as possible when faced with ice or cold.

Close-up image of a person's boots in snowy, icy conditions
Winter weather conditions make paying attention to safety even more critical when working on roofing projects.

Winter Fall Prevention

Falls are among the most common causes of injury in the roofing industry. According to OSHA, more than one-third of deaths in the construction industry occur after a person falls from a roof. While the risk of falling is always present, it becomes more pronounced in the winter when ice and snow create slippery conditions. A roofer could slip and fall before they even get on the roof, if the ladder they are using is icy or if there are patches of black ice on the walkway leading to the site.

Throughout the year, it's essential for a roofing contractor to provide their team with fall protection gear, such as personal fall arrest systems and guardrails, to reduce the risk of falling and to minimize injury if a fall does occur. In the winter, it's critical that anyone going up on a roof has the right footwear, such as boots with rubber treads, to get a good grip on the roof and to keep the wearer's feet warm.

If workers use ladders to access roofs during winter projects, they should remember to always clear the ladder of snow and ice before climbing on it. It's also important that they maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times, such as both feet on the rungs of the ladder and one hand on the rail or two hands on the rail and one foot on a rung.

How to Stay Warm When Working in Winter Conditions

Slips and falls aren't the only winter weather issue roofing contractors might face. There's also the issue of low temperatures, which can contribute to frostbite, hypothermia and other types of cold stress. Cold stress occurs when the skin's temperature and then the body's internal temperature drops and the body becomes unable to warm itself up.

There are several things you can do to prevent cold stress and to keep your team as warm as possible in cold conditions. Pay attention to the weather forecast and schedule work shifts for the warmest part of the day, usually in the afternoon when the sun is the highest in the sky. Provide your team with appropriate clothing to wear during their shifts. OSHA recommends at least three layers of insulated clothing as well as gloves, boots and a head covering. Workers should use the buddy system and keep an eye on each other to make sure no one is becoming too cold. It's also important to give people plenty of breaks and a warm area to take their breaks in. Warm beverages will also help roofers combat the cold.

Coping With Ice and Snow

Snow and ice can be particularly challenging for roofers, even for those who are working on a flat roof. Snow can also conceal problem areas on a roof, such as a weaker area or an opening, increasing the risk of a fall.

Before anyone from your team steps foot on a roof, the area should be de-iced and all traces of snow should be removed. It can be ideal to have a separate crew handle the snow removal and de-icing process to ensure that the job is performed as thoroughly as possible. Since ice can form overnight, it's a good idea to check the area before beginning work each day to confirm that no new ice has developed.

Remember, always put safety first when working on any roofing project, especially when you and your team will be working in winter conditions.

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