Mitigating snow load risks

The cold months are here, and with them come snow, wind, rain and ice. Even though accidents happen all year round, there are several incidents that specifically occur during the wintertime.

By Oddmund Bleie, Stefan Nyberg and Caroline Bødkerholm

Following heavy snowfall, the rooftops of buildings are often loaded with snow. The weight of wet snow can be three times higher than that of dry snow. Snow can cause damage to the rooftop, which in turn can lead to damages in the building even business interruption, for example if a location needs to be closed down for repairs.

In this article, Senior Claims Adjuster, Odd­mund Bleie from If in Norway and Risk Engineer Stefan Nyberg from If Sweden, share their knowledge on how to prepare your business for the winter.

What’s your plan?

First and foremost, you need to have a plan. This plan should not solely cover the necessary steps after an accident has happened, it should also include all the preventive actions, that will help to reduce the risk significantly.

Make a risk assessment of your buildings

A massive snow load can pose a significant risk that may compromise building structures. Consider the stability of your own buildings and third party buildings in other locations that are a part of your supply chain. Even though, your storage facility may be a rented space from a third party, it is in your interest to understand any potential risks.

Ultimately, any damage to the structure can affect your business if something happens to your inventory. Ask yourself the following questions during your inspection: What is the structural integrity of the roof? Is it an old building? Has the structure weakened over time? Is the drainage system functional?

A frozen drainage system can cause snow and ice to build up on the roof. To avoid this, consider installing heating in the drainage system. This is especially important in geographical areas where the temperature frequently varies from below freezing to a milder temperature.

Put a team together

Who will you call if your production facility, warehouse or office building is covered with snow, and do you have the necessary equipment when snow needs to be removed?

Snow removal is often a job for professionals, who are trained to remove snow safely, utilising professional methods. Apart from posing a significant risk of personal injury, unloading may actually cause more damage when done incorrectly. If the load on the building becomes increasingly uneven during unloading, the entire building can collapse. Unskilled workers may also damage the roof when removing snow, causing water to enter the building.

Skilled personnel will also consider the risk of potential risk caused to pedestrians, parked vehicles and other property when removing the load on the roof. Taking appropriate measures during this activity are critical to protect human life and property.

Follow the weather forecast

If the weather forecast indicates that a lot of wet snow will fall in a short period of time, then it can represent a significant risk. Snow followed by rain will increase the amount of water, which will ultimately affect the weight per square meter.

When there is already a substantial snow load on the roof, predictions of further snowfall in weather forecasts serves as an important warning. The wet snow can increase the weight on the roof to a level where the risk of collapse shouldn’t be ignored.

Watch for pockets of snow

Large amounts of snow can accumulate into wind pockets in sheltered areas, for example on flat rooftops, behind chimneys or between heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment installations.

More and more companies are powering their operations with solar panels that are placed on the roof of the building. Therefore, it is important to consider how the photovoltaic (PV) system in combination with heavy snow load can affect a building structure.

One thing to consider is that PV panels on low-rise commercial and industrial buildings can change the patterns of the wind flow and the snow accumulation.

Another concern has to do with old buildings, as added weight from PV panels on the roof, increases the demand on the structure of the building. It is important to evaluate the guidelines for your PV panels in respect to snow loads.

A thorough risk assessment

Conducting a thorough risk assessment of your buildings and property located in snow prone areas will help you to develop relevant mitigation actions and plans. Further, this will help to secure your business and personnel for the potential risks relating to snow loads on rooftops.

At If Insurance, we work by your side to support you in your risk management work to help prevent losses.