My first adventure in the roofing industry was selling equipment to roofing contractors and suppliers. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, my favorite equipment to sell was truck-mounted hydraulic conveyors, as rooftop delivery service was blossoming throughout many parts of the country. 

In those early days, some building supply dealers offered rooftop delivery services, operating “high lift” trucks for loading shingles onto single-story residential roofs. Back then, the high lift was simply a flatbed truck body with a hydraulic system that lifted the entire loaded body to heights of 14-18 feet. It was typically a one-man operation, as the driver also served as the loader. With any luck, he would get a helping hand from the roofing crew. 

As residential building designs continued moving to higher, steeper roofs, the truck-mounted hydraulic conveyor became the go-to solution for roofing distributors offering rooftop delivery services. Ten years later, the industry saw hydraulic knuckle booms and telescopic cranes emerge as the need to deliver residential and commercial products to the roof grew. 

In the early 1980s, roofing-oriented distribution had begun to carve out a niche in the roofing and building supply industry. The trend proved to be a game changer for the distribution of roofing products as chain operations moved into new markets, bringing the convenience of rooftop delivery; many markets had not previously enjoyed this type of delivery. 

Fast forward to today, borrowing an adage from election campaigning that “all politics is local” — all roofing supply markets are also local. In some markets, rooftop delivery is just that: roofing is delivered to the site and placed on the roof by the supplier. We used to call it “pitch and catch.” In other markets, the supplier delivers the roofing to the site and lifts it to the roof, where the roofers take it off the conveyor or boom; pitch — catch not included. A holdover from the high lift days, we used to call that “eaves loading.” 

In the early 1990s, when OSHA fall-protection guidelines became more robust, suppliers, like roofers, were required to provide complete fall protection in construction for heights over six feet (I’m paraphrasing). At that point, I moved from selling conveyors to managing a fleet, so I had to work out ways to meet the new safety standards.

I thought the industry might change to “pitch only” at that point, assuming the increased cost of erecting fall protection schemes would be too great for the market to bear. However, I cannot think of a single market where new regulations prompted any change; pitch and catch markets just figured it out and kept going.

In addition to markets where no rooftop delivery service is offered, there remain markets where “pitch only” was the standard practice then and remains so to this day. What brings this all to mind is when I recently took my morning jog in Savannah, Ga., where the suppliers pitch and the roofers catch. 

As I passed by the site of a multi-family reroofing project, I noted a crew of four roofers on the deck waiting on the supplier’s knuckle boom to begin lifting pallets of shingles. As is frequently the case, they were not practicing any detectible form of fall protection (that issue is for another column). I could not help but think back to when we would load jobs like this with a high lift. 

At least when it was over 50 squares, we would send a second man.

I also recall discussing the topic of pitch and catch versus pitch only with suppliers in the Savannah market. They were steadfast in their idea that theirs was the best way. In those days — without cell phones or GPS  the instances of either the roofer or the supplier not showing up at the appointed time were routine. Let’s face it: after the “first out,” you all lose control over the clock. 

As a pitch-and-catch guy, I insisted that I would instead send my crew out, get the job done, and get on to the next job: happier and more productive customers. I believe I was right, until mobile phones, GPS, and full fall protection schemes became a norm. 

Let’s face it: If everyone on the job is practicing fall protection according to OSHA standards, it would only make sense to establish one scheme for every worker. That does not exist to my knowledge in the world of rooftop deliveries. The supplier is doing this while the roofer is doing that.

I will not engage in the many arguments as to whether or not the roof loading operation is strictly required to have full fall protection. Let’s get past what the government says we must do and simply focus on worker safety as the top priority. No matter what.

So, what is best?

In my opinion, in the world of OSHA and the desire to protect our workers, the “pitch only” method strikes me as being the overall best solution. Fewer people up the ladder and on the roof equals a safer project. Period.

This notion is enabled by superior inventory and logistics systems operated by the suppliers and sophisticated scheduling systems driven by contractors. With GPS and robust mobile communications across all platforms, arranging to meet simultaneously at a delivery site is plausible and more accessible than ever. 

I realize that an obscure editorial in a new publication for the roofing supply industry will not change a single market, but when I drove past that apartment job this morning, I had to toss it out there. 

That’s my opinion. And, of course, I always value yours.