Icicle knocks Stockholm man unconscious

A man was taken to hospital in Stockholm on Wednesday morning after being knocked unconscious by a falling icicle.

Icicle knocks Stockholm man unconscious

The man was hit on the head by the icicle as he walked around the corner of Fridhemsgatan and Fleminggatan on the island of Kungsholmen, shortly after 10 am. He was knocked unconscious and taken by ambulance to hospital, where the emergency services confirmed later he was not seriously injured.

Work to sweep snow had started on the roof of the building, but the workers had not begun on the side where the incident occurred.

There is an emergency number that Stockholmers can call if they see dangerous icicles forming. So far this winter the service has taken some 600 calls, half of which have come since Christmas.

“The change in the weather conditions has caused the problem. When the temperature is around zero, icicles start to form from the combination of melting ice and the warmth from the building,” said Fredrik Tamm, managing director for Stockholms Fastighetskalender, the organisation which mans the helpline to TT.

Last winter the helpline received 3000 calls. After each call the owner of the house or building concerned is informed exactly where the icicles are.

“The owners of the building should immediately remove the snow and ice which are threatening to fall,” says Rune Thomsson, legal manager for Fastighetsägarna, the organisation run by building and homeowners.

The owner can be reported and forced to pay fines if an accident occurs. It is also not sufficient to simply put up signs warning of possible falling icicles.

“A sign should be there for a short while to tell people that the icicles will be removed. As there can sometimes be a delay before the snow sweepers arrive, everything possible should be done to make people aware they should not enter the area, ” Said Thomsson.

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VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe

Stockholm's snow-topped buildings may look charming, but heavy snowfall can be dangerous. An army of 'sweepers' take to the city's rooftops to clear them of snow in a carefully managed operation.

VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe
Rooftop snow cleaner Andrei Pilan clears buildings in Stockholm's picturesque old town. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Teetering on the edge of a black tin roof ten metres (33 feet) above ground, Andrei Plian and Alex Lupu clear a thick white blanket of snow off a building in Stockholm's historic Gamla Stan (Old Town), while their colleague on the street below keeps watch to warn pedestrians passing by.

While to many the job would be vertigo-inducing, for Plian and Lupu – two roofers by trade – it gives them a chance to admire the view.

“Being here on the roof and looking up at the sky, you feel that freedom,” Plian tells AFP, seemingly ignoring the biting subzero chill.

Secured with ropes, carabiners and a safety harness, he climbs the few remaining steps on a ladder attached to the roof and breaks the serene quiet of the sunny February morning with a clank as his shovel hits the tin roof.

Click on video below to watch:

The constant clearing of snow from the city's roofs is first and foremost done for “the safety of the people”, but also to maintain the buildings, many of which are hundreds of years old.

“If there is too much snow on the roof it is too heavy for it so you have to take it off,” the 36-year-old says

A ten-year roofing veteran, he moves around fluidly and with confidence. Getting the job done quickly is key as more roofs are waiting, but safety remains a top priority.

“Every time you have to think about safety, it's the number one rule. You don't have room for a mistake here. If you make one mistake it could be your last,” Plian says.

In early February, another snow clearer was seriously injured while clearing a roof in the northern Swedish town of Umeå, with initial findings showing he wasn't wearing his safety harness.

Under Swedish law, property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice off their buildings if it threatens to fall and injure someone, but accidents are rare.

“As far as I can remember there has only been two deaths in the last 20-30 years or so,” Staffan Moberg, spokesman for the insurer industry group Svensk Försäkring, told AFP.

In one case in 2002, a 14-year-old died after being struck by a large block of ice that broke off a building on Stockholm's main shopping street Drottninggatan.

Moberg added that they don't keep statistics on incidents since they are rarely requested, and while accidents do happen on occasion, “the consequences are mostly not lethal and very seldom even severe”.

But after every fresh snowfall, signs immediately sprout up on sidewalks and facades warning passers-by of the risk of falling snow and ice, awaiting the arrival of the “snowploughs” in the sky.

While Plian and Lupu are busy at work on the roof above, Fredrik Ericsson is tasked with ensuring the safety of pedestrians down below.

Using a high-pitched whistle, he signals their comings and goings: when he blows his whistle once the shovelling stops to let people pass, and two whistles signals the all-clear to resume work.

Ericsson concedes that it can be a tricky task as people are often oblivious, sometimes wilfully, to the work going on.

“They don't show that much respect, they just walk past, so I have to stop and yell at them,” he explains. “They don't see the danger.”

By AFP's Helene Dauschy