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COVID-19 scare closes Burnaby, B.C. work site, virus impacting construction’s material supply

Jean Sorensen
COVID-19 scare closes Burnaby, B.C. work site, virus impacting construction’s material supply

The impact of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is being felt more on the construction material supply side than on the workforce, said Jordan Bateman, vice-president of communications for the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA).

“We have had four or five of our members say they were waiting for materials from China,” said Bateman, who echoes what news reports around the world are saying as China deals with the severe  COVID-19 outbreak.

Bateman said it is more of a slow down than a shortage currently as shipments are delayed or take longer to arrive. He said it is difficult to pinpoint how much is attributed directly to the coronavirus and how much is the result of Canada’s rail blockades. Construction companies are currently attempting to work around the slowdown of materials, he said.

By mid-February, there were 41 ships in Vancouver harbour waiting to either unload or pick up materials, according to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus, is also China’s sixth largest steel production area.


We have confirmation from medical authorities that the worker from the Austin and North Road project site does not have coronavirus,

— ITC Construction Group statement


Bateman said he was aware of a report that ITC, a construction company, had shut down a portion of its City of Lougheed redevelopment site in Burnaby after an employee showed symptoms associated with COVID-19 on Feb. 27. He said that the Construction Safety Officers (CSO) attended to the individual and he was sent to hospital for testing, however, then the CSOs had to self-quarantine. “You can’t run a construction site without CSOs,” he said of the shutdown.

The results of the test done on the worker came back negative and on March 2, ITC issued the following statement: “We have confirmation from medical authorities that the worker from the Austin and North Road project site does not have coronavirus. The worker is safely resting at home and the project is site is fully operational.”

Bateman said that his association is leaving the lead on prevention to the experts, in this case the B.C. Centre of Disease Control, which is providing a flow of information on its website. Part of the BCCDC’s advice relates to cleanliness. Bateman said that while most workmen wear gloves, larger sites do provide areas where workers can wash their hands.

BC Construction Association President Chris Atchison said, “Safety is always a priority on jobsites and managing the risk of COVID-19 should be no exception. Simply from a human resources perspective, trades people can’t work from home, so we strongly encourage employers to provide common sense advice about the simple actions employees are expected to take to reduce the risk. We also suggest they have a clear policy regarding when workers should stay home, enforce sanitary standards in portable washrooms, and keep hand sanitizer stocked when running water isn’t available. BCCA is keeping a close watch on this issue and how it may affect B.C.’s construction sector.”

WorkSafeBC’s website added information on the coronavirus shortly after the first case was reported and recommends that measures used in the prevention of spreading common respiratory viruses like influenza such as hand washing, avoiding ill people, and cleaning often touched surfaces should be practised.

Bateman said one of the difficulties with the virus is that it is difficult to determine whether it is a normal flu or the COVID-19 virus. As the ICBA obtains information, Bateman said he will be distributing it to the association members via the newsletter.

The Canadian Construction Association has warned that the virus could cause shortages, disruption of supply partners, and impact contracts. “No-one is buying anything or producing anything in China right now,” said Peter Kapler, senior vice-president and national director of performance security with Aon.

Recent Comments (2 comments)

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Brad Noort Image Brad Noort

My wife is going through chemotherapy for lymphoma right now. I am the primary care person for her at home. I am worried about going to my jobsite and bringing the virus home.Because of her very depressed immune system she would be in big trouble if she got sick. I am not sure what to do in this case.

Safety Sam Image Safety Sam

BC Sites don’t require a CSO, let alone more than 1 as refenced earlier in this piece. Construction sites only require a Level 2 First Aid attendant or more than 1 depending on the number of people on site unless it is more than 20 minutes from a hospital by road.
First aid is the first to be sacrificed in order to save money. We are constantly overridden by the Site Superintendent. My last gig, the Site Sup had the first aid supplies spread out on an event table. Some not in packaging. Also figured Windex was adequate to wipe surfaces with. Instead of dealing with site sanitation, I was told to fasten plywood to steel studs.
There needed to be handwashing stations in 2 or 3 locations, but no, also railings both steel and 2×4’s should have been cleaned several times a day but that wasn’t going to happen either. The builders just don’t get it and don’t care. Sites need not shut if everyone got on board. WorkSafeBC is absolutely useless and don’t respond to our complaint or it will be glossed over.
The unions are just as bad, they knuckle under to the contractors when they should be standing up for the workers….they don’t.
The builders won’t and the worker reps have no backbone…and see where it has brought us. Just about the whole industry is down or soon will be and how much is that costing in the end run.
We know what to do and how to do it but need the support of the construction firms and workers. This need not happen.


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