By Gary Thill
With COVID-19 cases soaring nationwide as localities continue to re-open their economies, it’s more important than ever for roofers to ensure workers are following safety protocols and wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Before, everyone was clamoring trying to figure out what to do,” said Rod Petrick, owner of Ridgeworth Roofing Company and NRCA Chairman. “Now the hardest part is trying to keep up with supplying proper PPE and antiseptic washes.”
That’s doubly important because despite the pandemic, many roofers find themselves busier than ever. In fact, Petrick said business is brisk enough in the Chicago area that he could bring on more workers, but he’s not doing so to protect his existing workforce. “We’re not taking any chances,” he said. “And I can’t tell a guy that we’ll hire him if he goes on a 14-day quarantine.”
Business is also brisk in the southeast. “We’re pedal to the metal right now,” said Derric Stull, president and CEO of Ridge Valley Exteriors with offices in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. “But it’s tough staying on top of all the safety protocols. The battle is real.”
Fighting that battle has been made all the more difficult thanks to oft-changing guidance from OSHA and shifting state and local requirements that are often not even put in writing. NRCA offers several helpful resources on its coronavirus resources page including:
- CDC-COVID-19 guidance
- WHO COVID-19 guidance
- OSHA FAQs on mask use in the workplace
- OSHA: COVID-19 guidance
But for the most part, roofers have had to find their own way when it comes to keeping workers — and customers — safe during these challenging times. Petrick recommended that roofers work with safety consultants and avail themselves of information provided by organizations such as NRCA. Here are eight ways Petrick and Stull are keeping workers safe — and business humming:
- Check worker health before and after work. Petrick said every foreman and driver gets a temperature scan when they walk in the door. They in turn scan all site workers for potential fevers. Health experts say these quick health checks are a vital first line of defense. “I just want to make sure everyone comes to work and goes home healthy,” Petrick said. But be aware that such health screenings entail some legal concerns.
- Give workers PPE they’ll use. Rather than N95 masks, Petrick and Stull say they encourage workers to wear Buff-style masks and pitch hoods. These face coverings are multifunctional, moisture-wicking, breathable and can even be SPF protected. Stull even branded his Buffs with his logo. As temperatures rise, providing those kinds of options will become even more important for compliance. “Our guys are way more prone to wear our Buffs than they are to ever wear a mask,” Stull said.
- Use friendly field verification checks. Stull has assigned some workers to verify that others are following proper safety protocols. But he makes sure that enforcement comes from a personal responsibility angle rather than a punishing one. “All managers know how to police,” he said. “But we want to use the ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ approach.”
- Put someone in charge of PPE. Petrick has found that one person in charge of PPE and safety products is a great way to ensure that workers always have what they need and can easily find it. For example, the PPE manager makes sure workers all have their own bottles of antiseptic wash to wipe down rigs and equipment. “Everything is out and available for the foreman to take to the jobsite,” Petrick said. “It’s almost become a full-time job making sure everyone has what they need.”
- Provide COVID-safety-specific training. Every week, along with regular training, Petrick makes sure his crews are hearing a coronavirus-related Toolbox talk, which are available from NRCA. Stull adds that it’s important for company leaders to stay on top of the latest guidelines from CDC and municipalities. “You just have to stay on it,” Stull said.
- Communicate safety plans with your team. Along with training, Stull and Petrick said it’s important to stay in regular communication with crews about safety measures including reminding them of their importance — and their effectiveness. “No one has gotten sick yet,” Petrick said, knocking on wood. He sends out a weekly letter to crews thanking them for their efforts and urging them to continue working safely. Stull makes sure the safety plan is in writing and stays in front of the team.
- Document safety protocols. Jobsites can have a lot of different crews working on them beyond just roofers. So it’s important to document your teams’ adherence to safety protocols with photos. One such photo quickly cleared up an accusation about Petrick’s team not wearing masks. “Our foreman sent a picture of our guys on the elevator wearing gloves, masks and the whole deal and another picture of the other trades wearing nothing,” he said. “That cleared it up quick.”
- Be a leader. Anyone who’s been on a jobsite has seen other crews acting irresponsibly. That’s why it’s more important than ever for roofers to lead through example during these challenging times. “I think it’s the uninformed and unprofessional contractors that are struggling,” Petrick said. Though it’s challenging to run a safe business, Stull said appealing to workers’ sense of social responsibility is a good place to start. “I’m trying to lead from out front,” he said.
Ultimately, both Petrick and Stull said, the roofers with the best safety protocols will reap the benefits, especially when it comes to capitalizing on the summer rush. “The market is on fire right now,” Stull said. “The question is how long will it last.”