How COVID Changed Roofing: Real Talk with Trent Cotney

By Karen L Edwards 06-08-2021
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One year after the pandemic began, Trent Cotney of Cotney Attorneys & Consultants has seen firsthand how COVID changed roofing. Here, he shares insights into what contractors are concerned about as well as tips on how to successfully navigate the roofing industry in this new environment.

What Challenges Are Contractors Facing?

Right now, the biggest concern Cotney hears from contractors is how challenging it has become to simply gather roofing materials. This is an even larger concern as many areas of the country head into storm season.

"'What do I do if I can't get roofing materials?' is the number one question I am hearing from contractors," Cotney says. "I tell them that now is the time to be buddies with your suppliers, buy materials in advance and stockpile them. Work with contractors outside your geographic region to create a network of peers."

According to Cotney, some of these shortages in roofing materials may have stemmed from shutdowns due to COVID-19 outbreaks (or, in the case of lumber sourced from Canada, border closures). He says contractors should follow the situation closely and expect to see issues continue throughout the summer.

What Should Contractors Communicate to Their Customers?

It's important for contractors to communicate with their customers about any and all challenges and/or changes.

"From a contractual standpoint, making sure that you are accounting for delays regardless of whether you are doing residential or commercial work is paramount," Cotney says. "You want to make sure you have open and honest conversations with your customers and let them know that there may be a delay in obtaining materials."

How Can Contractors Protect Themselves from Price Increases?

When materials are in short supply, prices tend to rise. As manufacturers face shipping challenges and see price increases for the raw materials needed to produce materials, contractors should expect to see their costs rise as well. It is important to take this into account in your contracts, says Cotney.

"We've had a variety of material shortages and increases in prices related to lumber, steel, and other key items in construction. If you don't take that into account at the time you submit your proposal, you could be stuck with what you put into that contract," he explained. "I like to include a price acceleration provision that says that in the event any material line item's price goes up by 5%, you are entitled to an equitable adjustment of that contract to reflect the increased cost."

What Safety Changes Should Contractors Be Aware Of?

Among the ways Cotney has considered how COVID changed roofing in the past year, one of the most prominent shifts he says he's noticed is from a safety perspective—expect to see changes from OSHA coming. "There's going to be an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19. That is almost a certainty," Cotney says. "You can expect to see increased rule-making, regulation, inspections, and citations throughout the year. As we get into the third and fourth quarter, you will start seeing a lot more of this."

Another change COVID-19 brought is more collaboration between the human resources, safety, and legal departments. Regulations designed for COVID-19 safety often go hand in hand with the ones in place for HR. "You need to have protocols in place for social distancing and for making sure you are abiding by CDC guidelines," Cotney explains. "Implementing and communicating those safety precautions both in the home office and in the field is something where HR has to be involved. Notifications of sick workers or affected workers are policies and procedures that you need to have in place."

Clearly spelling out your COVID-19 protocols and safety procedures ensures that everyone understands how to continue working safely—and it also reassures customers that everyone working on the job is following best practices.

Can Customers Require Workers to be Vaccinated?

Several contractors have reached out to Cotney with questions about jobs they are planning to bid on that include a requirement for all workers to prove they are vaccinated. "The first question that we get is, 'Can you do that?' And the answer is 'yes,'" Cotney said.

However, the vaccination requirement cannot be enforced if both parties have already signed the contract. "With an existing contract, they can't say that you must now have everyone vaccinated unless there is a federal, state, or local requirement in place."

When a customer makes the request for crews to be vaccinated, Cotney says contractors working with an existing contract have a few options. "They can ask for additional consideration, or they can tell them 'I'm not required to do that and I'm not going to do that.'"

Jobs that contractors are bidding on now are different, since this requirement can be put into the contract. He says that contractors may want to consider having at least one fully vaccinated crew in order to meet these requests in new contracts.

Contending with new legal complexities and additional protections introduced in the wake of the pandemic, contractors experience daily how COVID changed roofing. Following the recommendations from Cotney can help ensure contractors successfully navigate these changes and prepare for what's ahead.

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