Staying Safe Following a Major Weather Event
by Darin Douglas, CEO, Lowe Roofing, Inc., & president, Merge 3 Technology, Inc.
(Editor’s Note: Darin Douglas began roofing in 1997 after graduating from Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. Lowe Roofing, Inc., is a family-owned roofing company that has been in operation since 1975 in South Dakota and Wyoming. Merge 3 Technology, Inc., helps contractors track and control their safety processes and efforts on a daily basis. Douglas also served on the WSRCA Board of Directors for nine years and was the chair of the Safety and Health Committee and Low-Slope Committee.)
Recently we had a hailstorm in our area, and it caused severe damage to roofs. With many damaged beyond repair, emergency reroofing was required. After a significant weather event, mobilizing is difficult, as the logistics of quickly moving workers, materials, and equipment can be tricky. It is critical that you take the time to train your crews on safely navigating a natural disaster. Hurricane winds, tornadoes, massive rains, or large hail can cause significant damage, requiring building owners to seek help quickly. It’s important is that you don’t get ahead of yourself and put your crews in unsafe situations.
Before anything else, have a safety meeting and go over what your crew is going to see when they hit the streets. Talk about everything from safely navigating to the job, as there may be power lines down or roads shut off, to proper protocol for safe access to the roof for repairs. Ensure your crews are outfitted with the contact info for emergency services and building owners, and review your company’s emergency protocol. As your teams arrive at the job, make sure they do a visual assessment of the site and meet with someone on location to ensure it is safe to access the roof. Learn as much about the situation as you can before climbing on the roof.
When accessing the roof for the first time, take a minute and do a visual inspection from the ladder of the entire roof area. Look for substantial hazards like holes in the decking or power lines lying on the roof. Follow this up with a walk-around inspection and make sure you mark any hazards so that other crewmembers will see them. Mark with high-visibility tape or paint and cover or mark any large openings in the deck. The more hazards you can identify at the beginning, the safer your crew will be.
Be aware of other trades around you and keep them safe, too. When a significant weather event does a lot of damage, roofing contractors won’t be the only trades scrambling to help their customers. Electricians may be working on units, plumbers may be working on drains, or siding guys may be working below you. Communication is key to keeping everyone safe and going home at night. Take some time to introduce yourself and go over the main parts of your plan to see if anything your crews are doing is putting the other trades at risk.
Often, you will be working on an occupied building, which brings up another set of safety concerns, as the occupants of the building are also dealing with the event. When setting up for repairs, you should avoid high-traffic areas, as there will often be a lot more foot traffic at entries and exits, as well as additional vehicles in the parking lots. Visibly mark your staging area and ladder access areas so that everyone moving around the site is aware of your presence above. When using forklifts or cranes, make sure your ground-use areas are marked, as traffic during a weather event doesn’t always stick to the usual access routes.
Now that you have trained your crews and inspected the project site for safety concerns, you can begin your repairs. Remember that all standard OSHA rules apply even during an emergency event, so make sure you don’t do all the work on the front end of getting there safely, then get someone hurt not following the basics. Make sure tie-off points are attached to undamaged parts of the structure and used at manufacturer recommendations.
It is natural to want to get out and help your customers and fellow community members when a weather event happens. It’s also a chance to make some money, but don’t pile bad on top of bad by getting ahead of yourself. Take the time to train your crews in emergency response and develop company protocol so that everyone is on the same page and going home safely.