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.