The safe removal of snow and ice from roofs

15 December 2010
A roof structure is in danger of collapsing when the snow load on the roof is distributed unevenly. Snow builds up easily, e.g. between parallel gable roofs or arched roofs. A great amount of snow can also accumulate on flat roofs.

Check the roofs

Visual inspections expose roofs that are in danger and the bending of structures signifies an immediate threat. Storage buildings, canopies and lightly constructed roofs in particular should be checked often enough. If necessary the snow should be removed.

Remove the snow

Snow should be removed evenly from all parts of the roof. Gable and arch type roofs should be dealt in such a way that the weight diminishes from both roof panes in equal amounts. Snow must not be piled up on a lower roof.

Work safely

Comply with occupational safety instructions when working at heights. Always wear a safety harness. This is particularly important during spring, when large areas of snow can start sliding along the surface of the roof at the same time. Prevent damages to the surface of the roof, e.g. by leaving a thin layer of snow.

Warn passers-by

Oversee that snow or ice does not cause danger to passers-by during snow removal. Uncontrolled falling of snow and ice from the roof must be avoided. Accumulated snow and ice on roofs is also a liability risk!

Real-estate owner’s and occupier’s liability

The accentuated duty of care of the owner or occupier of real-estate covers the risks created by the accumulation of snow and ice on roofs. The owner or occupier of the real-estate must show that every possible measure for avoiding damage or injury had been taken.

Outsourcing the maintenance to external companies does not discharge the owner or occupier of accountability towards third party victims. However, from the point of liability risks, it is important that the tasks and liabilities of the service and maintenance company are stipulated as precisely and unambiguously as possible in the service and maintenance contract.

In addition to liability for damages, negligence regarding servicing and maintenance can lead to criminal sanctions. The chairperson of the Board of Directors of a housing company was sentenced to a fine for negligent manslaughter in a case in which a 39-year-old man died after being hit by a ten kilo block of ice in January 2003.

It was the opinion of the Supreme Court of Finland (KKO 2007:62) that the chairperson of the Board, who was responsible for the maintenance, condition and safety of the real-estate, had been negligent in not having the ice which was in danger of falling off the roof, removed.

The housing company had bought maintenance services from a service and maintenance company. However, the removal of snow and ice from the roof had not been clearly transferred to the maintenance company in the contract. Therefore the housing company itself was responsible of monitoring the roof and cleaning it when necessary.

Snow and ice load

Snow and ice loads are normally at their heaviest in March. But depending on the weather it is possible for snow and ice to accumulate in exceptional amounts at any time during the winter.

Jukka Honka and Matti Sjögren