Snow Safety

Snow Safety - Shoveling, Snow Blowing, Rooftop Snow Removal

January 26, 2021

The following tips can help you get a "handle" on safe shoveling:

  • Consider equipment alternatives to manual shoveling.
  • Prior to winter, identify the areas that need to be shoveled during snow fall.
  • Designate what employee will be tasked with shoveling. Make sure snow removal is provided in the job description and provided to the pre-hire physician to determine fitness for duty.
  • Take it slow! Ensure scheduling provides ample time to complete the task. Consider work- rest cycles or job rotation. Shoveling (like lifting weights) can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically, so pace yourself. Be sure to stretch out and warm up before taking on the task.
  • When possible, try to shovel fresh snow. Freshly fallen, powdery snow is easier to shovel than the wet, packed-down variety. Pay attention to the weather reports and create a schedule that helps accomplish the removal of fresh snow.
  • Provide smaller shovels to prevent overexertion from a large load.
  • Straight handled shovels are best used when lifting/scooping snow. This type of shovel should be considered in heavy and/or deep snows.
  • Curved handled (ergonomic) shovels are meant to push snow, rather than lift/scoop snow. The curved nature of the handle is designed to reduce stress on the lower back when pushed, but if used for lifting, increases the stress as compared to a straight handed shovel. This type of shovel should be considered if snow is light and not very deep.
  • Snow pushers resemble a snow plow blade and are not meant for lifting/scooping snow because of their size. If used where expansion joints in the surface are present (e.g., concrete walks or driveways) they should be run across the surface at a slight angle to help it travel more smoothly and reduce the risk of the blade dropping into the small gaps that can cause it to stop abruptly giving the operator an unexpected jolt.
  • Educate employees who will be performing shoveling work on the following:
    • Push the snow as you shovel. It’s easier on your back than lifting the snow out of the way
    • Don't pick up too much at once.
    • Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. By bending and “sitting” into the movement, you’ll keep your spine upright and less stressed. Your shoulders, torso and thighs can do the work for you.
    • Do not work to the point of exhaustion. If you run out of breath, take a break. If you feel tightness in your chest, stop immediately.
    • Dress warmly and in layers. Remember that extremities, such as the nose, ears, hands and feet, need extra attention during winter’s cold. Wear a turtleneck sweater, cap, scarf, face protection, mittens, wool socks and waterproof boots.

Remember, if you’re uncomfortable with the work, aren’t quite sure what you’re doing, need additional education on the topic, or need additional resources (time, materials, tools, equipment, training, PPE, etc.) to complete the job in a safe manner, communicate this with your supervisor, IMMEDAITELY!

Each year, hundreds of people suffer injury or amputation of their fingers or hands due to the improper handling of snow blowers. We would like to provide information to help you avoid these injuries during the winter season.

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand states that snow blower incidents occur to the operator’s dominant hand in 90% of all reported injuries, and amputations of tips of fingers are the most common occurrence.

Injuries are typically caused when:

Injuries from snow blowers typically occur when the equipment jams or clogs. In this scenario the operator attempts to remedy the situation by reaching into the equipment to free the clog. Although the machine may be off, the blades may still be rotating or begin rotating once the clog is relieved. The contact with the rotating blades results in severe injury to the hand.

The best way to prevent these types of injuries is by reducing the occurrence of jams and clogs.

  • Complete snow blower operations frequently throughout snow falls to minimize the snow accumulation, specifically with icy, sticky, slushy or refrozen snow.
  • Apply non-stick snow blower spray to the blower to make it less likely for the snow to stick.
  • Operators should keep a brisk pace, as a slow pace will increase the likelihood of clogging.
  • Use the de-clogging tool periodically to clean off the equipment. If equipment clogs often, the company should consider investing in a new or more powerful snow blower.

REMEMBER - if your snow blower jams: Turn it OFF!

  • Disengage the clutch.
  • Wait at least ten seconds after shutting the machine off to allow impeller blades to completely stop rotating.
  • ALWAYS use a stick, broom handle, or unclogging tool to clear impacted/clogged snow.
  • NEVER place hands, feet, or any body parts into the intake end or exit chute or around the blades. Keep all body parts away from moving parts.
  • Keep all shields, guards and safety devices in place.

Other Snow Blower Safety Tips:

The company should designate who is permitted to operate the snow blower and ensure adequate coverage with varying shifts and locations. The operators should receive instruction on correct, safe operation prior to operating the equipment and provided refresher training prior to each winter season. The owner’s manual should be utilized for specific machine instructions. Operators should demonstrate correct operation.

Safety tips for operators:

  • Read the owner’s manual thoroughly and understand all of the recommended safety procedures before turning on the snow blower. Ask your supervisor to clarify anything you don’t fully understand.
  • The snow can sometimes hide objects that might clog the chute, or otherwise cause damage. A pre-start inspection should be conducted to clear the area of doormats, boards, wires, newspapers and other debris. For those items that may be present year- round or routinely, make note of their location and see these are removed.
  • Never throw snow towards people or cars, and never allow anyone in front of the snow blower.
  • If you have to repair or unclog your machine, disconnect the spark plug wire, or for electrics, disconnect the cord.
  • Dress properly for the job. Wear adequate winter garments and footwear that will improve footing on slippery surfaces. Wear safety glasses and avoid any loose fitting clothing that could get caught in moving parts. Long hair should be tied up.
  • Follow all manufacturer recommend maintenance schedules, including pre-season tune up.
  • Handle gas carefully. Avoid spillage by using non-spill containers with spouts. Fill up before starting, while the engine is cold. Remember: Store gas in a clean, dry, ventilated area, and never near a pilot light, stove, or heat source. Never smoke around gasoline.
  • Do not clear snow across the face of slopes. Use extreme caution when changing direction on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes. Identify slopes that may need to be cleared during snowfall and create an alternative plan for this process.
  • Never operate the snow thrower without good visibility or light.
  • Always be sure of proper footing and keep a firm hold on the handles.
  • Walk — never run.

Remember, if you’re uncomfortable with the work, aren’t quite sure what you’re doing, need additional education on the topic, or need additional resources (time, materials, tools, equipment, training, PPE, etc.) to complete the job in a safe manner, communicate this with your supervisor, IMMEDAITELY!

Every year, workers are killed or seriously injured while performing snow or ice removal from rooftops and other building structures, such as decks. It is likely no surprise to you that based on the finding of OSHA investigations, most of the fatal and life-changing injuries associated with snow removal at heights are caused by falls. Here are a few examples that show how this is a reality.

  • In the process of removing snow from a roof, a worker lost his balance, slid off the roof and struck his head on construction materials stored below, resulting in a fatal head injury.
  • While shoveling snow and applying grid lines on a second-story deck, a worker was fatally injured after falling through an unprotected elevator shaft opening.
  • An employee was standing on a 12-foot ladder to clear snow from a low-pitched roof. The ladder slipped and the employee fell hitting his head on the ladder and then on the concrete. He died from his injuries.

In addition to falls, other significant hazards during this work include amputations from equipment, collapses, tip-overs, entrapment, suffocation, electrocution, frostbite, hypothermia, and overexertion. As with any hazard, it is extremely important to plan ahead for safe snow removal.

Planning should begin prior to winter months to ensure adequate time, thought, and resources are given to this hazardous activity.

The company should consider the following:

  • Who should do the work?
    • Consider eliminating the risk for your employees through risk transfer to an experienced, insured contractor.
    • If considering conducting the work internally, evaluate if your company has the knowledge, competency, and resources to perform the work safely. If these elements are not present, the risk must be transferred or these elements must be achieved before beginning the work.

These questions will assist you in developing the knowledge, competency and resources needed to do this work safely:

  • Can alternative snow removal methods (snow rakes, heater strips, etc.) that do not involve workers going on the roof or elevated surfaces be used?
  • Are there any hazards (skylights, roof drains, vents, leading edge, etc.) on the roof that might become hidden by the snow? If so, how can they be safely marked so the workers can see them?
  • How should snow be removed, based on the building’s layout, to prevent unbalanced loading?
  • Where will removed snow be relocated? Will it create additional hazards for walkways, entrances, or pedestrians below? If so, how will this be addressed?
  • What are the maximum load limits of the roof? What amount of snow and ice accumulation requires the removal?
  • How does the estimated total weight of snow, snow-removal equipment, and workers on the roof compare to the maximum load limits of the roof? If it will be over the limit, what will be your next steps?
  • What tools, equipment, protection devices, clothing,
    and footwear will workers need?
  • How will workers access the roof or surface safely? What surfaces will they be working on? What fall protection will be used to protect workers?
  • How will mechanized snow removal equipment and other equipment be safely elevated to the roof?
  • Is equipment such as ladders adequate for conditions or will they create additional hazards?
  • How will the company ensure workers are knowledgeable, competent and confident in performing the tasks required of them? (i.e. operating equipment, using ladders and lifts, wearing fall protection, etc.)
  • Has the company developed a stop work policy and educated employees on the importance of this?
  • Who, when, and how will the process be audited to confirm hazards are being controlled and when additional needs exist?

Eastern Alliance Insurance Group is here to help. To access additional safety resources visit or contact Melanie Nykamp or Greg Clone in Risk Management for assistance. 1.855.533.3444