5 Winter Commercial Roof Hazards to Watch For

January 31, 2019

Bitter cold, freezing rain, large snowfall totals, and whiteout conditions: all proof that winter is a brutal season. Car accidents and slips on the ice aren’t your only worry. If you’re a facility manager, you also need to consider winter roof hazards. We’ve outlined the five most concerning.

No. 1: Ice dams
If drainage paths freeze, ice damming along the perimeter of the roof is likely. And once you have ice dams, you may also have leaks. As warmer daytime temperatures and sunshine warm the roof, snow and ice melt, causing water to run under the ice, behind the gutter, into flashings, and inside the building. While you might be tempted to tackle the ice dam with a hammer and some ice melt, don’t risk it. Not only can you injure yourself, but you can cause severe damage to the roofing system. Call a roofing contractor; they’ll know how to safely address the problem. If necessary, an electrician can install heat tape to prevent future ice dams.

No. 2: Heavy snowpack and big drifts
When snowstorms dump large amounts of snow in your area, the added weight on the roof can be a structural load concern. Don’t get your shovel or snowblower. Leave rooftop snow removal to the pros. Your roofing contractor knows how to work safely on the roof and can remove the snow without causing damage to your roofing system.

No. 3: Frozen ponding water
Ponding water that sits on the roof any longer than 48 to 72 hours is always concerning, but even more so in winter. When large puddles become thick sheets of ice, rooftop workers risk injury merely traversing the roof. And just like with large drifts and deep snow, if the ice is thick or widespread enough, it could result in roof collapse.

No. 4: Hidden skylights
Workers may be oblivious to snow-covered low curbs and skylights on the roof. Before snowfall occurs, mark these rooftop hazards with cones or neon orange snow flags. These visual cues can help prevent rooftop workers from accidentally tripping on, stepping through them, or falling from the roof.

No. 5: Snow falling from the roof
Sloped roofs create added worry. Large chunks of snow and ice can slide off the roof as snow melts. If the roof system is steep enough and/or has a low coefficient of friction, avalanching snow is probable, making it dangerous for pedestrians walking below.

Snow retention systems can be installed at building entry or exit locations, above overhead doors (e.g. shipping and receiving), and over pedestrian walkways. Snow rail, fence, guards, and shoes all hold snow on the roof so it melts off gradually.