Weather, Congress Among Variables Likely to Affect Industry in the Year Ahead

As we move forward in 2019, the roofing industry can expect to be influenced by two sometimes out-of-control, difficult to predict forces: the weather and the United States Congress. Add to the equation a shifting economic outlook, as well as uncertain immigration policies, and you have a potentially toxic mix that makes any projection difficult. But there are some constants in the current environment that can help guide strategies for the roofing industry, and here’s our take on what to expect as this decade winds to a close.

There may be some limited success in tackling immigration reform, but don’t expect enough change to mitigate the labor shortage experienced by roofing companies. The Trump-promised wall has yet to be built, but actions to slow illegal immigration have been somewhat successful. The roofing industry has pressed for immigration reform; experts estimate that worker shortages account for up to 20 percent in lost roofing business each year, and sensible immigration reform could help end those shortages. The Center for Construction Research and Training, or CPWR, points out that in some construction occupations, including roofing, more than half of the workers are of Hispanic origin. So, the roofing industry certainly has a compelling case to be made for reform. 

Balancing the demand for secure borders against the need for additional workers has so far failed to produce meaningful legislation. Given the intense disagreement on how to move forward, 2019 will most likely be another year of bipartisan gridlock on this issue. The encouraging news comes from two areas of activity: innovations that promote ease of roofing installation, and industry efforts to certify roofing workers and increase the prestige of working in the trades. These efforts may help to recoup some of the business that has been lost because of the labor shortage, but only rational immigration reform will help to meet the unmet demand.

The weather may, in fact, be more predictable than the lawmakers who just assembled on Capitol Hill. Late in November of this past year, the Federal Government released the National Climate Assessment, the fourth comprehensive look at climate-change impacts on the United States since 2000. The Congressionally mandated thousand-page report delivered a sobering warning about the impact of climate change on the United States and its economy, detailing hownatural disasters are becoming more commonplace throughout the country and predicting that they may become much worse. 

While some may challenge the reality of long-term climate change, statistics tell us that short-term increases in cataclysmic weather events are an indisputable fact of life. And a temporary lull in these disasters cannot be taken as a sign of a change in weather patterns. For instance, as of early August this past year, the Tropical Meteorology Team at Colorado State University downgraded the forecast for the rest of the year, until November 1, from      “slightly above average Atlantic hurricane season” to less than anticipated. They were correct, for a while. No hurricanes formed in the Atlantic during the rest of August, making it the first season in five years without a storm of hurricane magnitude. But just as forecasters were declaring victory over unpredictable nature, Hurricane Florence delivered a pounding to the Carolinas in early September, and in October Hurricane Michael devastated much of the Florida panhandle. The erratic weather patterns did not stop at the end of the hurricane season: an early December storm dumped as much as a foot of snow on parts of the Carolinas that rarely see that much during an entire winter. So much for the predicted respite from extreme weather conditions.

The difficult-to-predict weather is creating one certainty for the roofing industry: customers will increasingly be looking for durable materials and systems that can withstand weather extremes. Additionally, the focus is turning to anticipating destructive weather and mitigating its potential impact by creating resilient structures. ERA has just produced its first annual report, “Building Resilience: The Roofing Perspective.” We anticipate updating this product each year to help provide the roofing industry with the latest approaches to creating resilient roofing systems. 

Unpredictable labor markets and unpredictable weather patterns are defining the “new normal” for our industry and will no doubt be part of our reality in 2019. But based on past performance, there’s at least one certainty we can count on: the roofing industry will come out ahead in the face of these challenges, providing our customers with innovative products and superior service and providing our employees with a work environment that ensures a secure future.

About the Author: Jared Blum is the executive director of the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), www.epdmroofs.org, and serves as chair of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. 

I Experienced a Fatality on a Job Site

A fatality on a job site is something I never thought I would experience. I’ve worked in architecture/construction/real-estate development for more than 12 years and a rusty nail through a work boot was one of the worst events I had encountered. I’ve been lucky. However, a roofing worker on a job site where my team recently was working lost his life and it was an incident that could have been prevented.

Our firm was hired by a client to act as an owner’s representative observer for a reroofing project. Thankfully (from a business owner’s standpoint), we were only hired to observe, photograph and document progress for the building owner. Our company was not the general contractor or the roofing contractor; therefore, we had no capacity to be in a supervisory role or have any say in means, methods or logistics of the roofing project.

The building was a high-bay industrial property that was due for a new roof membrane and insulation. Because the roof was fairly large in size and the weather was less than optimal, the roofing project was being completed in sections. Work progressed for several weeks in fits and starts and was generally behind schedule but was nearing completion.

One morning, in the process of what would seem to be catching up on the schedule, one worker became lax in using fall protection. Although the sections of the roof that were being stripped were cordoned off with flags, the worker was in an area that had a previous repair to the steel deck. A replacement section of steel deck had been used to cover up an old penetration or previous roof-deck repair. As the worker picked up a piece of underlayment, he stepped onto the replacement piece of steel deck, which had not been welded into place and did not overlap the hole any significant amount. As the worker stepped onto the replacement piece of steel deck, it slipped. Because there was little overlap, the piece of steel deck twisted as it slid and fell through the hole. The worker fell almost 30 feet to a concrete floor.

I’m not exactly sure what the survival statistic is for falling from that distance onto a hard concrete surface, but I can imagine that it struggles to reach double digits. Others on the site scrambled off the roof and performed CPR but, unfortunately, it was not enough to save the worker.

A recent study, “Fatal Falls from Roofs among U.S. Construction Workers”, from the Center for Construction Research and Training offers some startling statistics about roofing falls. From 1992-2009 nearly one-third of all fatal construction accidents were falls from roofs. The study states 76 percent of all deaths in the roofing industry are fall-related, and there is a higher incident of falls among foreign-born workers. Language barriers may be an issue in some instances. The sad fact is a good number of these fatalities could have been prevented with appropriate safety gear, clear communication and by avoiding cutting corners.

The construction field is a dangerous area where the risks of serious injury and even death are prevalent on a daily basis. The problem becomes worse when workers become complacent in their jobs; they know the associated risks but still make decisions that put them in harm’s way. I’m pretty sure the worker on this particular job site didn’t wake up that morning thinking it may be his last day alive. It’s just not something you think will happen to you until it’s too late.

Safety on the worksite should be the No. 1 priority of any company. Supervisors who are lenient about safety rules need to be retrained and held accountable for their job-site safety record. Above all, if you see something, say something. If a member of my team noticed this worker was not wearing fall protection, I would like to think they would’ve said something. It’s easy to dismiss reporting a safety violation to those in charge. Too often we think, “It’s not my job site; it’s not my employee; it’s not my problem”. However, someone’s life is at stake, and that someone deserves to go home to his or her family just like we do.