I thought for sure this memo to the blog would be a lighthearted look at our experiences at the recent International Roofing Expo (IRE).

News came last week that would remind me that roofing is not a lighthearted business. Injuries sustained in a fall from a week earlier had taken the life of a roofing contractor named Joe who worked just up the road from here.

I wrote in an editorial in January that I plan to observe roofing workers more closely this year and that I would continue to photograph and write about the hazards of falls in roofing. I never wanted to write or even think about deaths from falls, but it came with the territory when I started in the roofing industry 40 years ago this April.

I was in the business a matter of months when an employee of a roofing-contractor customer of the roofing equipment company I worked for lost his life in a fall. He fell from a four-story section of the region’s largest Baptist church which was being built in the heart of downtown. I cannot look at that building without thinking of him.

So what is it that we are missing? I do not know one individual with whom I have ever worked with that would say that even one death is acceptable. But I know plenty of people working in the roofing industry that go to work every day using the same practices that they have for years. They often employ practices that do not include much diligence in the way of worksite safety, especially in the area of fall protection. And, more often than not, they are lucky and they are able to return home after a day’s work. Lucky.

But here I am writing about a day that one contractor was not lucky. And before I go on, Joe and his team may have employed all the right methods and had all the right safety equipment in play. I am not making a judgment on what happened that fateful day. I do not know; I was not there and do not have any report on it. But something went horribly wrong and it is in my nature to feel that there must have been something we could have done to prevent it from happening.

And I include me in that “we,” since I make my living in this business. 

So I am doing the only thing I can. I do not own every roofing company in this country. I do not even own one. I cannot manage the activities on every roofing project. From my position in the materials distribution industry I can only have a limited impact on a small number of people who work at height every day. But from my position as a writer and an observer of the industry I can write and say out loud: WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.

If you do own a roofing company or manage people who work at height on construction projects, do not let another day go by when you do not employ and demand appropriate fall-prevention practices on your work sites. You do not want the next report about a serious injury or death on the job to be about one of your workers — or you.

This is a plea based on my years in this business and knowing too many contractors who have had the experience. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

Lastly, my heart goes out to Joe’s family, his friends and his co-workers. May he rest in peace and may they find solace with each other. I did not know Joe but do know he was respected, loved and will be sorely missed. And while I have loved being in this business all these years and honor the work we do, this is not a proud moment for me, and I do not think it a proud moment for the industry.