A Safety Blueprint for Roofing Contractors

Tue, Jun 04, 2024 at 9:40AM

John Kenney, CPRC, CEO, Cotney Consulting Group

Many roofing companies strive to achieve world-class safety standards but what does this mean? A world-class safety system focuses on balancing people, equipment and technology, ensuring exceptional performance across all these areas. This vision must permeate every aspect of the organization, supported by all employees and leadership.

Establishing the Vision

To achieve world-class safety, you need a clear vision outlining achievable targets. This vision should translate into SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Achieving these goals requires dedicated efforts from all employees, subcontractors and leaders, emphasizing the importance of a strong safety culture that recognizes safety as a core value.

Safety Performance in the Roofing Industry

World-class safety standards are industry specific. Roofing is a high-risk industry that necessitates substantial capital investment and technological adoption. Lowering the inherent risks requires reducing reliance on manual processes and embracing advanced safety technology, moving away from error-prone procedures and work practices.

Aligning Safety with Corporate Goals

A company’s safety vision must align with its larger corporate goals, setting the direction for the organization. This vision remains a long-term, attainable goal, while the mission represents the path to get there. The mission should adapt to changing business environments and circumstances and be executed by strategic leaders, managers and frontline supervisors.

The Impact of a Safety Culture

A compelling vision can energize and inspire employees to pursue the highest safety standards, yielding improved performance and increased returns on investment. A strong safety vision and consistent mission steps promote continuous improvement in safety performance, benefiting employees and subcontractors year after year.

The Safety Management System (SMS)

A Safety Management System (SMS) is a critical framework for protecting workers, assets and the environment. It offers direct benefits by reducing injuries and indirectly by improving profitability and sustainability. An effective SMS provides a roadmap for continuous improvement and ensures consistent organizational safety performance.

SMS Elements

An SMS typically consists of several key elements:

Management leadership and employee involvement: Leaders must commit resources and employees must engage.

Planning: Set clear safety goals and outline steps to achieve them.

Implementation and operation: Ensure systems, processes and training are in place.

Checking and corrective action: Continuously monitor performance and implement corrective actions.

Management review: Regularly assess and refine the SMS for continuous improvement.

The Role of Leadership

Leadership commitment is essential for a successful SMS, as well as for providing resources and fostering employee participation. An effective SMS includes:

Hazard identification and assessment: Regularly identify and evaluate risks.

Hazard control: Implement measures to control and mitigate risks.

Work site inspections: Conduct frequent inspections to ensure safety compliance.

Worker competency and training: Ensure all personnel are trained and competent.

Incident reporting and investigation: Report and investigate incidents promptly.

Emergency response planning: Develop and implement emergency response plans.

Implementing an SMS

Implementing an SMS requires a “plan-do-check-act” cycle:

Plan: Define goals and standards and allocate resources.

Do: Execute the plan, train personnel and document activities.

Check: Monitor progress, perform audits and evaluate effectiveness.

Act: Make necessary changes for continuous improvement.

Building an SMS from the Ground Up

Safety culture vision: Communicate a clear vision supported by leadership actions and messaging.

Standard Elements: Define clear, practical standards that meet or exceed regulatory requirements.

Allocate Responsibilities and Resources: Involve passionate team members, including a senior manager.

Training: Provide training at various levels to ensure all personnel understand and follow standards.

Document Activities: Maintain records for compliance, due diligence and continuous improvement.

Internal Controls for SMS

A successful SMS needs robust internal controls to ensure compliance with standards, procedures, policies and codes of practice. These controls should provide simple tools for users to implement and comply with the SMS’s requirements. Internal controls should also alert leadership to non-compliance and suggest corrective measures to promote compliance. Recording and trending near misses are crucial for preventing accidents or incidents.

SMART reports – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound – can include leading and lagging indicators to track progress further. For instance, personnel training records might show the amount of training completed over a fixed period, which can be easily conveyed through a training matrix. This matrix provides a snapshot of all groups at the project site, their required training and the status of each individual’s progress.

A good business practice is conducting regular audits, typically every one to three years, to identify opportunities for improvement. These audits help identify gaps and propose actions for closure, ensuring continuous enhancement of the SMS’s internal controls.

Sustainable Process Development

Once the SMS is rolled out and functioning, a maintenance and continuous improvement process is necessary to transition from regulatory compliance to world-class safety performance. This can be achieved by establishing a team to ensure sustained progress. The team should include a management representative, safety-motivated employees and a subject matter expert. Their agenda should outline members, expertise, management representation, deliverables, authority, resources, timelines, meeting frequencies and documentation needs.

Performance Management

Performance management is critical to the SMS, as leading indicators help improve overall safety performance. The impact of lagging indicators, such as injury frequencies, workers’ compensation claims and insurance cost, provides accurate measures of performance improvements needed.

Transforming raw data into actionable information enhances performance management. One example is an incident management system that captures annual injury data gains value through internal trends analysis and industry benchmarking. Reviewing this data transparently with the team helps motivate the workforce towards enhanced safety focus and improvements.

Upgrading an Existing SMS

If your company already has an SMS, upgrading it is essential for transitioning from compliance to world-class safety performance. This process mirrors the implementation steps, with additional focus on:

Gap analysis: Compare current standards with new requirements to identify gaps.

Gap closure strategies: Develop strategies to address gaps, involving stakeholders to ensure ownership.

Execution and rollout: Manage the rollout as a project with clear timelines, resources, leadership and internal controls.

Gap analysis identifies differences and prioritizes closing them, determining the necessary resources and time. The gap closure strategies should be simple, easy to follow and developed with stakeholders to ensure ownership. Finally, execution and rollout must include a schedule, key deliverables, a strong leader and internal controls to ensure on-budget and on-schedule delivery.


In this guide, we’ve explored vital aspects of an effective SMS for enhancing safety in the roofing industry. By implementing or upgrading an SMS, roofing contractors can protect workers, assets and the environment, fostering continuous improvement and transforming into industry leaders. Further articles will delve deeper into specific elements of workplace safety, providing additional insights for roofing contractor safety programs.


John Kenney, CPRC has over 50 years of experience in the roofing industry. He started his career by working as a roofing apprentice at a family business in the Northeast and worked his way up to operating multiple Top 100 Roofing Contractors. As CEO, John is intimately familiar with all aspects of roofing production, estimating and operations. During his tenure in the industry, John ran business units associated with delivering excellent workmanship and unparalleled customer service while ensuring his company’s strong net profits before joining Cotney Consulting Group. If you would like any further information on this or another subject, you can contact John at jkenney@cotneyconsulting.com.

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