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The Importance of Facility Rooftop Snow Removal

The Importance of Facility Rooftop Snow Removal

The Importance of Facility Rooftop Snow Removal

In February 2015, 
record snowfalls in Boston caused 44 roofs to collapse across a two-day period. Throughout New England, in fact, ice dams, snow drifts, and snow weight threatened roofs as more than seven feet (2.13 m) of snow arrived in one month’s time.

While the winter of 2014-2015 was unusually severe, the dangers to the roofs of industrial and commercial facilities are very real every winter season. Facility managers must be aware of the problems that snow and ice can pose to their facility's roofs and to the safety of those in and near the building, and prepare a roof snow removal plan accordingly.

Preventing Structural Damage and Collapse

The first step in preventing major roof damage during the winter is to be aware of the load-bearing capacity of your roof and of the approximate snow-weight currently on it. Flat and low-pitch roofs, so often used at managed facilities, are particularly prone to snow accumulation. These roofs usually have strong support systems, but the snow level must still be monitored to keep things safe.

One cubic foot (0.02 cubic meter) of powdery snow weighs about six to eight pounds (approximately 3 - 4 kg). The same quantity of packed or wet snow may weigh 20 pounds (9 kg), and ice in that amount can weigh up to 60 pounds (27.2 kg). Multiply any of these figures by the square footage of your roof surface and by the depth of the snow on top, and you will get an idea of the great strain your roof is subjected to each winter--and the subsequent importance of roof snow removal.

In general, you should not allow more than 18 inches (45.72 cm) of snow on a low-pitch roof nor more than 20 pounds of pressure per square foot (97.64 kg per square meter). FEMA, however, also warns that the attempt to remove excess snow is itself dangerous to a roof and to the people clearing it. Walking on the roof and shifting snow can create load-imbalances, and it is even important in what order different parts of the roof are cleaned off.

Some signs that your roof is under too much pressure include:
  • Visible sagging
  • Cracks developing in the walls
  • Major roof leaks
  • Creaking or popping sounds
  • Doors that pop open
  • Doors that are hard to open
  • Windows that are hard to open
  • Sprinkler heads dropping below ceiling tiles 
Some tips for rooftop snow removal are:
  • Use a plastic shovel since metal can damage the roof and conduct electricity if it touches a wire
  • With pitched roofs, use a snow rake with a long extension-arm.
  • Begin at the edges and work to the peak.
  • Leave 2 or 3 inches (5 - 8 cm) of snow on top to ensure you don't damage the roof.

Other Dangers to Watch Out For

Besides outright collapse, there are other roof-related dangers that will need some attention:

  • Ice dams can form when snow melt-off from the warmer central roof area refreezes at the colder eaves and backs up water. Better below-roof insulation and ventilation are the main answers.
  • Large icicles can dangle from the eaves, threatening to break off and fall on anyone walking or standing below.
  • Roof vents can get bent by sliding snow or clogged up with ice or snow. The latter could lead to dangerous gases being trapped in the building.
  • Ice on the roof may damage wiring and cause a fire hazard. Protecting pipes and vents with plywood is sometimes effective.
  • Roof-based snow drifts might dust entryways, and melt-off might drip there and refreeze. An industrial-strength heated floor mat can keep all entrances clear and dry.

Winter brings many dangers to a facility's roofs and to those who walk or stand near them. Being aware of these potential problems and knowing viable solutions enables for safer rooftop snow removal, and for other dangers to be prevented or quickly eliminated.

Five of the Most Highly Compensated Slip and Fall Lawsuits

Five of the Most Highly Compensated Slip and Fall Lawsuits

Five of the Most Highly Compensated Slip and Fall Lawsuits

In today’s litigious society, facilities with deep pockets are at risk for expensive lawsuits, particularly for personal injury claims from visitors and licensees. In northern locations where long stretches of inclement weather are common, slip and fall lawsuits are a significant concern for facility managers. The severe injuries that can result from pedestrians slipping on snow and ice often result in severe or permanent disability, leading to large jury verdicts. These five lawsuits made headlines due in part to the staggering amounts recovered by the plaintiffs.

A jury in Staten Island, New York, awarded a woman $4 million for injuries sustained when she fell on a poorly shoveled walkway outside a condominium complex. The plaintiff’s multiple spinal fractures, permanent disability, and constant pain suffered contributed to the large verdict. The amount awarded is particularly remarkable due to the fact that Staten Island juries are traditionally more conservative in awarding damages. This verdict shows that large monetary compensation for plaintiffs is a possibility in all legal climates.

Operators of a Super Eight motel in Connecticut were forced to pay nearly two million dollars in restitution after a man broke his ankle in three places when he fell on an icy sidewalk outside the motel. Part of the reason for the high amount awarded was the fact that the motel operators were aware of the propensity for ice to accumulate and did nothing to reduce the risk or warn people of the potential hazard.

An Iowa woman recovered $1.2 million from Marriot International Inc. and Courtyard Management Corporation after slipping and falling on ice outside the hotel. The testimony of other hotel patrons about the icy conditions helped sway the jury to find for the plaintiff, and the devastating injuries to the woman’s ankle impacted her future earnings, leading to the large verdict.

CVS Pharmacy was forced to pay nearly half a million dollars to an Indiana woman who fell on a sidewalk near the store’s entrance and fractured her ankle. Her injuries were so severe she was required to undergo surgery and have pins, plates, and screws implanted into her ankle. The jury found that CVS violated basic safety rules intended to protect customers by not keeping the walkway clear.

A Massachusetts case involving an elderly man who filed suit against the Target Corporation was notable both because of the size of the final award—$400,000—as well as the decision by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts to abolish the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow--that is to say accumulation due to natural snowfall vs. the piling of snow or ice in a particular location--which previously could have limited the defendant’s liability.

Plaintiffs who suffer serious injuries can heavily influence trial juries, especially when these plaintiffs are perceived as much weaker than the large corporation, organization, or facility responsible for their accident. Property owners and facility managers are well advised to take preemptive steps to make sure these types of accidents don’t occur, rather than attempt damage control later with costly and protracted litigation that will drain the organization’s resources.

Keeping walkways clear of snow and ice is a challenge for facility managers who must continually monitor weather conditions to ensure proper precautions are being taken to protect the public. However, as these examples demonstrate, it is crucial to have a strong handle on your commercial snow removal plan so as to eliminate the very real risk of liability brought by harsh winter conditions.

Prepare Your Facility For Snow and Ice Melt Flooding & Water Damage

Prepare Your Facility For Snow and Ice Melt Flooding & Water Damage

Prepare Your Facility For Snow and Ice Melt Flooding & Water Damage

Three-quarters of the water supply in the western parts of the United States are derived from the annual snow and ice melt at winter's end. While this is a natural process that is vital to the ecosystem, the flooding it causes can wreak havoc at commercial or industrial facilities. Any facility situated at elevations of less than 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and especially in areas near lakes and streams, is in real danger of flooding and water damage from snow melt-off.

High-stacked snow deposits, thick and extensive ice sheets, a sudden rise in temperature, and some additional water in the form of rainfall are a recipe for a significant flood. It is precisely those regions with the coldest and snowiest winters that usually will experience the worst flooding incidents when winter finally begins to recede.

Obtaining quality water damage and flood insurance and having a disaster preparedness plan will be critical in dealing with the annual flooding threat, but there are also ways to manage that threat. Ten of the best ways to minimize the effects of flooding and prevent water damage from snow and ice melt include:

1. Pay Close Attention to Forecasts

When a sudden rise in temperatures and/or rain is forecast while deep layers of snow and ice are still on the ground, consider that a warning sign. Also be sure to pay attention to official flood alerts.

2. Power Down Before a Flood

If a flood seems likely and you know there are electrical outlets that could be submerged in the aftermath, power off the facility's main breaker just before the water arrives.

3. Seal Foundation Cracks

It is natural for small cracks and fissures to develop in foundation walls, but these need to be sealed up with masonry caulk or hydraulic cement to prevent leakage.

4. Install a Back-flow Valve

Nothing is worse during a flood than backed-up sewage lines. Invest in a back-flow valve, and you will save yourself some costly water damage repairs.

5. Install a Sump Pump

Lower levels of the building should be equipped with a sump pump to keep water from rising to higher levels and to drain the water. If you already have a sump pump, test its regular and back-up batteries and make sure it is not clogged or pointed the wrong direction.

6. Move Valuables to "Higher Ground"

If your facility has valuable rugs, furnishings, or electronics in below-ground areas, move them to a higher room. If heavy equipment is too difficult to move, place it on concrete blocks at least a foot above expected flood levels.

7. "De-Snow" Your Foundation

Snow sitting piled up against a building's foundation is "water damage waiting to happen." There is no reason not to shovel it back a safe distance before temperatures are projected to rise above freezing.

8. Clear Out Sewage Drains and Downspouts

Inspect and unclog all gutters, downspouts, and drains before the snow melts or water may back up and seep into the building. Also make sure that there is no debris obstructing any sewage drains in the parking lot.

9. Have Sandbags on Standby

You can use sandbags to protect critical structures like outdoor storage shacks from water damage, so make sure you have several in stock before winter stars.

10. Remove Rooftop Snow and Inspect the Roof for Damage

While an inch or two (3 to 5 cm) of rooftop snow is acceptable, you may want to hire a professional to remove excess snow from your roof before it melts. When snow on the facility roof begins to melt, it may enter the building through holes that were small before winter began but have been widened by the freeze/thaw cycle. Inspect the roof in late fall to minimize the risk.

While you need to guard the whole building, your facility's roof and foundation are key to defending it against annual snow and ice melt flooding. Having a well-thought-out plan and implementing it will save you on costly water damage repairs.