Loss prevention bulletin: Snow and ice loads and other winter hazards

Jan. 1, 2020
Zurich's loss prevention bulletin discusses snow and ice loads and other winter hazards.
The information in this publication was compiled from sources believed to be reliable for informational purposes only by Zurich American Insurance company. Please share it with owners, general managers, sales managers, service managers and office management.

In some parts of the country, winter means snow-packed driveways, icy stairs, wet floors, roof collapse and frozen pipes. Don’t wait until it's too late to prepare for winter emergencies.

Snow-related roof failures continue to be a common occurrence every year, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to businesses. These collapses indicate that not all building codes have addressed the snow-load problem adequately. Quality of construction, lack of inspection and proper maintenance are factors contributing to these structural failures, as well as the following:

  • Discontinuous heating of structures can cause melting, refreezing and subsequent ice build up.
  • Sloped warm roofs can cause refreezing on cold eaves, leading to ice dams or backup of ice under shingles.
  • Wind-driven snow creates drifting, which significantly increases snow loads.
  • Barrel vault and saw-tooth roofs collect excess snow and ice in valleys.
  • Rain on top of heavy snowfall significantly increases the load, which can lead to structure failure.
  • Ponding can occur when water backs up on roofs and in drainage systems. Snow and ice load recommendations
  • Make a visual examination of the roof’s structural members, if possible. Check for leaks, sagging or misalignment; corroded, cracked and/or buckled steel members; split and/or rotted timber; and cracked and/or spalled concrete members.
  • All drains, gutters and downspouts should be cleared of debris.
  • Roofs must be routinely checked for ponding. Low areas should be repaired and/or additional drains added.
  • If the building is left unheated for long periods, ensure the roof will be capable of withstanding any additional snow load.
  • If lower roofs, canopies or covered walk- ways have been added to the structure, the effects of sliding and drifting snow should be considered.
  • Increased snow loads and additional dead load due to reduced melting must be considered for any roof retrofitted with additional insulation for energy conservation reasons.
  • The roof should be capable of withstanding additional sliding and drifting snow loads where solar panes, mechanical equipment or other roof projections have been added.
  • Dead loads, such as air conditioners, heaters and suspended storage platforms, when added to the roof’s structural members, will decrease the roof’s live load capacity.



Loss Prevention Frozen water pipes
Water freezes at 32° F, and so will your water pipes if not properly protected. Frozen water pipes often burst when they thaw and can flood your business. Nothing dampens the spirit faster than waiting for a plumber inside a flooded building, so protect your facility against freezing temperatures with these tips:

  • Below-freezing temperatures occur even in the southern states – don’t be complacent.
  • Inspect all heaters and furnaces prior to cold weather.
  • Conduct a thorough building inspection in the Fall and look for:
    • insufficient insulation in walls, attic, basement or other concealed spaces.
    • openings in the roof or exterior walls where cold air could enter.
    • exposed water pipes above drop ceilings, in attics or adjacent to large exterior doors.
    • interior areas where heat may be insufficient to protect water pipes.

  • Inspect automatic (fire protection) sprinkler systems to ensure they are fully operational.
  • If sprinkler equipment is located in a small room or closet, provide a separate heat source.
  • Remember to leave the heat on over weekends and holidays when buildings are unoccupied.
  • Don’t attempt to thaw pipes with any type of open flame; this creates a severe fire hazard.



Slip and fall incidents involving customers and employees also occur more frequently due to inclement weather. Don’t wait until winter hits your part of the country to prepare for the worst.

Snow and ice removal

  • Prepare for ice and snow in advance.
  • Develop and implement a snow and ice removal program.
  • Designate an individual to monitor weather and walking surface conditions.
  • Have appropriate equipment, tools and supplies ready for use by internal personnel.
  • Contract or retain professional snow removal companies in advance.
  • Make sure the snow removal service provides regular checks on your location, with 24-hour and on-call capabilities.
  • Record pertinent data on a snow/ice removal log.
  • Allow sufficient time for treatment to take full effect.
  • Remove highly-piled snow where it reduces visibility in traffic areas, especially at corners.
  • Provide adequate lighting for all pedestrian and customer traffic areas.
  • Redirect downspouts that empty onto walkways, as they can create slip and fall hazards.
  • Don’t leave floor spills and puddles unattended, especially in customer traffic areas.
  • Post a “Caution-Wet Floor” sign and clean wet floors immediately.
  • Place mats or rugs at all entrances to help keep the floors clean and dry.
  • Post other appropriate warning signs in high hazard areas.
  • Remove or provide warnings of “hidden” hazards that could be inadvertently struck by cars or pedestrians if covered by snow (curbs, grates, debris in walkway, fire hydrants, etc.).
  • Attend to injured persons immediately – show compassion but never admit fault.
  • Conduct prompt accident/incident investigations.
Loss prevention information
For questions about this loss prevention topic, contact the Zurich Risk Engineering Department or visit www.zurichna.com/zdu.

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