Pandemic Continues to Stress the Roofing Industry
by Richard K. Olson, president & technical director, Tile Roofing Industry Alliance
(Editor’s Note: Richard K. Olson is president and technical director for the Tile Roofing Industry Alliance. The association represents industry professionals involved in the manufacturing and installation of concrete and clay tile roofs in the United States and Canada, and works with national, state, and local building officials to develop installation techniques, codes, and standards for better roofing systems. Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create significant constraints to roofing professionals and relief may not occur anytime soon. Combined with the uncertainty of the economic impact on construction, we need to consider viable options that will allow us to be sustainable through the coming season. The Tile Roofing Industry Alliance is diligently working in collaboration with our fellow colleagues on issues facing all of us in the roofing industry. We are working with manufacturing, distribution, government, and contracting partners to help monitor the current construction environment, and to communicate and develop formal plans for improving the governmental oversight around COVID-19. While the Federal Government continues to make and revise plans for distribution of vaccines, roofing professionals are unclear as to the timing and outcome of these efforts in our specific areas. One of our collective goals is to make sure that roofing professionals remain on the essential worker list for vaccine eligibility.
The increase in unemployment and decrease in commercial construction may challenge our ability to seek and retain roofing crews. As employees are faced with personal challenges for basic needs at home, there may be increased transient workforce effects. Childcare, education, and living essentials are driving decisions to relocate to more attractive and affordable living locations. As owners and managers, we need to be in close discussions with our workforce to create open dialog on their needs and ours.
With the recent change in administration, we are monitoring the effects on labor, safety, infrastructure, and immigration policies. It may take a few months for the actual scope and details of the new policies to be clear. In the interim there are a few areas we might address to help keep us moving forward. Roofing professionals should develop a strong focus on developing a formal COVID-19 written plan, educational program, and an engaged network for enforcing your plan. Roofing contractor-based associations like Western States Roofing Contractors Association are great resources for obtaining assistance and resources on these topics.
For those projects you have under contract, you should review the current language and clauses for how to integrate your COVID-19 safe work environment programs. As a subcontractor on most projects, the general contractor may be adding additional responsibility and potential liability to you moving forward. Your written plan needs to consider how you address jobsite conditions, such as potential outbreaks.
The availability of products for your jobs may also be a concern as winter weather, COVID-19, and reduced orders may delay or even eliminate some of the products from timely deliveries. Clear communication with your supply chain and subcontractors is vital in keeping your schedule on track and reduce conflicts.
If the Federal Government delays funding of an increased infrastructure program, the result may be the further decrease in commercial projects that often surround such programs. This may push focus for more contractors to the residential market seeking available work. Currently there is a lack of available/affordable housing in many states, which could result in builders increasing residential building efforts.
One of the demands we are seeing as an industry is educational opportunities for contractors, including specialized or custom training. Online virtual training platforms that we have developed are now reaching all parts of the country. The savings on travel, meals, and time off the job have made these training opportunities a high priority to many of our contractors. This is a great time to review your training needs and to reach out to your industry associations to discuss how they can be part of your training team.
We are all hopeful that at some point in 2021 our COVID-19 challenges will become less of a stress and closer to controlled. Until then, we must be vigilant in our plans, programs, and understanding as we navigate the road ahead. Industry associations continue their collaborative efforts to support the roofing community.