Roofing, Risk & Covid (Aug 18)

I dropped out of Cornell in 1971, bought some land, and started doing odd jobs. One of the first was at minimum wage, for an old geezer who hired me to put roll roofing on his gambrel barn. He sat in a wheelchair at ground level and talked me through the whole project, step by step. It was all done on old wooden ladders, with a few patched rungs. I was terrified the entire time. Thinking back, there was good reason to feel that way.

Right now I’m re-roofing my own house. I bought some good fall protection for the job, but then decided even that wasn’t enough. So, now there is a comfy scaffolding platform at the eaves, with safety rails. It’s almost like working at ground level.

These days, the risk that scares me most is not falling and dying. Something less could easily be worse: serious injuries, massive hospital debt, chronic pain, permanent loss of mobility. It’s also a matter of comfort. As a builder/remodeler I often worked on roofs with just a safety rope around my waist. Back then I woke up all the time from falling dreams. Now that I do construction more safely, they are very rare. It’s nice to sleep well at night. Less working at odd angles = less back pain. Thank you OSHA.

BTW someone mentioned the unsafe angle of the orange ladder. It’s a support slide for 17 foot roof panels, raised with a rope winch via a pulley at the ridge. Humans use the 3 small ladders inside the frame.

The same risk calculation plays out for Covid-19. What scares me the most is a long hospitalization, then chronic lung damage and piles of debt. Even a mild case still means two weeks of quarantine, boredom and worry. Masks and social distancing are inconvenient, but much less so than what they prevent.

Many colleges that reopened are seeing outbreaks. Cornell and other local schools still plan to open on-site, so I am very worried about the next few months. It inspired me to start building a Covid risk estimator, using Microsoft Excel. It will help for personal decisions.

The process is similar to construction estimating: break things down into smaller pieces, calculate each of those, add them up. For construction, the components are scaffold setup, square feet of metal roofing, skilled labor. For Covid-19, it’s risky environments, and time spent in each. Add up the construction costs and you get a dollar amount. Add up life in 2020 and it’s an estimate of inhaled virus particles, and odds of getting sick.

Turtlesoft got its construction estimating data from our own projects. Covid-19 will be trickier. There’s a fair amount of useful data out there, but it does not translate so easily into virus per hour.

A basic problem for any estimating system is accuracy. Our construction unit costs were calibrated by matching them to actual costs for our remodeling projects. Then we refined them with feedback from users. For Covid-19, I’ll run it on a few case studies like the choir practice in Seattle, and tweak the values so it hits on the nose for those. County case counts and cell phone location data from the Social Distancing Scorecard will also help, especially from back when nobody wore masks.

This is not a rush project, but it ought to come together over the next couple weeks.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director

Author: Dennis Kolva

Programming Director for Turtle Creek Software. Design & planning of accounting and estimating software.