This winter has been undoubtedly brutal and, unsurprisingly, has led to an uptick in snow- and cold-related injuries among workers. Snow removal in particular has taken a serious toll on workers’ lives, calling attention to the need to revisit proper severe weather safety procedures.
In Massachusetts, which has experienced the worst of the winter snowfall, two workers died while removing snow from a roof in Canton; two others were injured in Avon and Burlington, separately. Another accident in Westwood saw a teen worker slip through a cracked skylight while removing snow — an incident that may have been prevented had proper precautionary measures been in place.
An OSHA investigation revealed about 16 cases of preventable serious injuries or fatalities related to snow removal over the past 10 years. Based on OSHA findings, falls are the main culprits: workers have fallen off roofs, through skylights, and even from aerial lifts and ladders. Other common hazards include roof collapse, trips, frost bite, and hypothermia.
The physical exertion that snow shoveling entails puts workers at risk of heart attack and requires them to observe certain precautions to keep snow-related health hazards at bay.
Snow shoveling is a leading cause of injuries during the winter season. The 2013 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that close to 28,000 people sustained injuries while manually shoveling ice and snow. That’s not all — an extensive study conducted over a period of 17 years revealed that between 1990 and 2006, 11,500 people ended up in emergency departments every year due to injuries sustained from snow removal.
The guidelines laid down by OSHA require employers to safely plan snow removal procedures. Its standards require employers to provide fall protection equipment and training to workers operating on rooftops or at elevated heights. OSHA also requires rooftops weighed down by snow to be properly inspected to ensure their structural safety. It recommends that employers use methods of clearing snow that eliminate the need to climb in the first place.
Rick Rabin, a technical assistance and training associate at Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), rightly places the responsibility on employers to ensure that workers are given necessary training to handle hazards while using equipment like shovels, snow rakes, snow blowers, and ladders to access rooftops and clear snow.