The roofing industry does not have the best reputation for safety or quality workmanship, but how can it improve its image when main contractors keep insisting on lowest price?
Everyone has seen the television exposés in which a roofer rips off some member of the public, or the damaging reports on roof failures that pinpoint poor detailing, shoddy products or bad workmanship as the cause. It is also common knowledge that roofing is the trade where a high proportion of the serious injuries and fatalities reported annually by the Health and Safety Executive occur.

It is, therefore, not unreasonable to assume that the UK roofing industry could do with an image makeover.

As an experienced roofing contractor, I agree that these representations of the industry are not without foundation. But I believe that the lack of progress towards higher standards is the responsibility of the consumer and the main contractor.

Let me explain.

Joe Public is a law unto himself. With his aversion to VAT and instinctive determination to get the job done as cheaply as possible, he cannot stop himself from using the services of the less legitimate so-called roofers. When he complains about the finished product, he has only himself to blame.

As for main contractors, they really ought to know better. They invite subcontractors to cheesy seminars about whatever is the latest fad and witter on endlessly about how they have realised that quality is more important than price.

First, we had the great "key supplier" seminars of 1997, where main contractors asked for best price first time and guaranteed that they would come back to you exclusively if they won the job. Then, there was the Construction Act lip-service. Most subcontractors would agree that builders have gradually stopped applying the act, particularly where pre-notification of valuation deductions is concerned.

Show a main contractor a cheap price and it will abandon all respect for health and safety, training and quality of finishing

Next came the partnering craze, where you chuck your hand in with the builder as a preferred client and, bingo, you end up doing all their work. Now we have approved supplier list Constructionline – billed as a guaranteed way of being selected for contracts.

Subcontractors know that all these initiatives will fail because there are too many main contractors operating a procurement policy that is geared to best price. Show a main contractor a cheap price and it will forget everything else. It will abandon all semblance of respect for health and safety, training and quality of finishing in the mad quest to get the job done as cheaply as possible. You've all seen the moody surveyor on site, more interested in peering at the budgets on PC than in looking out of the window to see what is going on outside.

Too often, main contractor's surveyors are expected to be nothing more than accountants. They pick the cheapest scaffolder and expect the roofer to work off a scaffold that is, more often than not, well below the eaves line so the operative has to clamber up to the roof. They never think of the delay this causes, or of the effect on quality and the risk to safety. Most falls from roofs are from eaves level, but this is a cost that seldom gets accounted for.

My company often loses contracts at pre-order stage because we always insist on having access scaffold and site facilities that comply with health and safety legislation. When we politely point out these requirements, we are looked upon as Bolsheviks. On one job we "lost", some poor soul fell from the scaffold to his death a few weeks later: another statistical black mark against the roofing industry.

How then, can a professional, quality-assured roofing company with certified craftsmen, a proper health and safety policy and a commitment to training compete with one man and his ladder? This is almost certainly what is driving down overall standards in our industry. And it is fair to say that demand for bad roofers has never been higher, especially with the current chronic skill shortages that lack of inward investment has caused.

Until the client, the professional team and the contractor realise that lowest price does not equal best value, the industry will never improve.