Snow and Sky

I am rather proud of our assistant editor Nick St. Denis. Last week, he did something that just might save some lives. Nick noticed there had been reporting on an avalanche of instances in which people have fallen through skylights over the last few weeks—particularly in the New England region. And he saw such an increase in the number of injuries (and sadly one fatality) from falls through said skylights that he thought the trend was newsworthy.

The main cause of all the accidents seemed to be the same: people clearing snow off roofs, and by last Wednesday, there had been six related skylight falls in six days—in New England alone.

I have heard that landlords and building owners were hiring day laborers in record numbers to clear off the rooftops of their buildings. Many had full crews going from building to building. I also know that teenagers were canvassing residential neighborhoods, not only to shovel the snow off walkways, but to remove it from the rafters, as well.

Last month was the fifth anniversary of the collapse of our office roof from the weight of the snow in the 2010 blizzard, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Ever since then, when I hear a forecast of a big snow, I think of the roof. Even though it is fine now, has been shored up, checked and rechecked for proper snowload capacity, I still think of the roof.

So if I arrived at the office and saw a team of roof and chimney sweeps up there, I’d be thrilled. Would I stop and think about what’s up there that might hurt them? Are there any soft spots, hazards or other items up there? I don’t think it would cross my mind. And this is why there have been so many injuries. People are so focused on removing the snow, they are forgetting about what’s underneath.

So Nick took all the stats he had gathered and contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to see if they had also noticed the trend. OSHA officials had been looking at the issue of roof falls due to snow removal, and they issued an alert about it, which Nick reported last week.

So I am proud of Nick for doing what good editors do by making the connection and highlighting the problem with an eye toward solutions. Let’s hope everyone gets to see that warning, and there are no more accidents.
And we can’t leave it with just a simple warning. The glass industry should come up with a program to remind and educate people about the danger above.

For example:

  1. All skylight installations should be accompanied by a “roof map” that clearly shows where the skylights and other hazards are;
  2. When possible, skylights should be protected by gating (there have been some codes introduced to this effect) and a small flag that rises at least a 24 inches above it (although that probably would not have been high enough for this year’s snow);
  3. An awareness campaign should be conducted for building owners and managers, and a public service campaign for the general public complete with posters and info for a winter advisory—something like:

“Snow and Skylights Don’t Mix”

If you are clearing snow off your roof, don’t forget what lies beneath.
Make sure you know where the skylights are, and don’t stand on them.


“What Lies Beneath Could Hurt You”

Skylights are designed to look through, not stand on. Skylights are not made to support your weight, and standing on them could result in their failure and your injury. Be careful where you step.

Or even a jingle for the kids:

Snow’s Heavy, So are You.

Watch for Skylights,

So You Don’t Fall Through.

I don’t have to tell you how wonderful skylights are, both functionally and aesthetically. It’s the ignorance of what they are and where they are that hurt people. Education will help. Thanks Nick!