Record snow-related worker deaths and injuries prompt immediate calls for employer precautions.

February 24, 2015

Press Statement
Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, MassCOSH Executive Director
cell (617)-642-1878
Jeff Newton, Communications Coordinator
(617) 825-7233 x14

Record snow-related worker deaths and injuries prompt immediate calls for employer precautions.

2/24/2015       BOSTON – With over 100 inches of snow falling in parts of Massachusetts in less than a month, companies and officals have been racing to clear snow from roads and roofs, and in the process, requiring their workers to complete extremely dangerous tasks with fatal results. Two workers died this past week in Canton and two more were hospitalized in Avon and Burlington in separate incidents from falls while clearing snow from roofs. Two weeks prior to these tragedies, 60-year-old Cesar Moya, a Whole Foods employee, was hit and killed by a snow plow that was clearing the Medford supermarket parking lot.

In the Canton incidents, one man reportedly fell through a skylight while assessing snow removal operations, and another fell from a roof while clearing the snow. The worker in Avon also fell 35 feet through a skylight while clearing snow from a roof.

Given the size and number of city and town-owned buildings, town employees are particularly at risk of falls from heights, and often public employees without experience on roofs, such as custodians, are being asked to do snow removal. The state Department of Labor Standards has issued the following bulletin informing these public employers of the safety requirements that must be met by thier employer before they do this work:

“Behind each one of these worker deaths is a devastated family,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH). “Given the enormous hazards that are present with snow removal, it is imperative that employers identify all potential hazards before sending workers to work on a roof or in an area where they are exposed to plows or other vehicles.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has investigated 16 such serious injuries or deaths in the past 10 years, all of which could have been prevented.

“Often workers climb directly onto the roofs or structures and use equipment such as shovels, snow rakes, snow blowers and ladders to access roofs and apply de-icing materials,” said Rick Rabin, a Technical Assistance and Training Associate at MassCOSH. “Workers who perform these activities have little experience or training on the hazards they may encounter. It is incumbent upon the employer to evaluate the hazards and provide the necessary training before workers begin the work.”

Based on findings of OSHA worksite investigations, falls cause the most worker fatalities and injuries during rooftop snow removal. Workers may fall off roof edges, through skylights, and from ladders and aerial lifts. Workers may also be injured or killed by a roof collapse.

In order to prevent worker injury when removing snow from roofs, OSHA requires employers to take the following precautions:

  • Use snow removal methods that do not involve workers going onto roofs, when possible.
  • Provide fall protection equipment to workers who go onto roofs.
  • Guard skylights so workers do not fall through.
  • Mark skylights, roof drains, vents that might be hidden by the snow.
  • Avoid contact with electrical power lines. Keep ladders, aerial lifts and workers at least 10 feet away from power lines.
  • Evaluate weight load exerted on roof to ensure that the roof can hold the snow plus workers and equipment. Do not pile snow on roof.
  • Train workers to recognize fall hazards, use fall protection harnesses and anchor points correctly, use aerial lifts safely, use ladders safely, and avoid electrical power lines.
  • Protect people on the ground from snow and ice falling off the roof during removal operations. 

About MassCOSH
MassCOSH strives to ensure that all workers earn their living and return home alive and well. MassCOSH unites workers, unions and community groups with environmental and health activists, to end dangerous work conditions, to organize for safe, secure jobs, and to advocate for healthy communities. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions.