The Office for National Statistics have published new research on deaths involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) in different occupational groups among those of working age – aged 20 to 64 years – in England and Wales.

The ONS highlighted occupations that have statistically significantly higher rates of death involving COVID-19 when compared with the rate of death involving COVID-19 among people of the same age and sex in the general population.

  • A total of 2,494 deaths involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the working age population were registered up to and including 20 April 2020.
  • Nearly two-thirds of these deaths were among men (1,612 deaths), with the rate of death involving COVID-19 being statistically higher in males, with 9.9 deaths per 100,000 compared with 5.2 deaths per 100,000 females (882 deaths).
  • Compared with the rate among people of the same sex and age in England and Wales, men working in the lowest skilled occupations had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19, with 21.4 deaths per 100,000 males (225 deaths); men working as security guards had one of the highest rates, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000 (63 deaths).

The charts use age-standardised mortality rates of death involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) in England and Wales, by major occupational group, deaths registered up to, and including, 20 April 2020

The bar chart shows men working in low paid or caring, leisure and service occupations had the highest rates of death involving COVID-19.

Male care workers and home carers had a higher rate of death involving COVID-19 than men of the same age in the general population

Caring, leisure and other service occupations, can be divided into smaller groups. Of these, most of the deaths were among the caring personal service occupations group, with a rate of 26.3 deaths per 100,000 males, equivalent to 53 deaths. At the lowest level of granularity, this finding was largely explained by the rate among those providing care within residential care homes, day care centres or to people in their own homes – that is, care workers and home carers (32.0 deaths per 100,000 males, or 32 deaths).

The elementary workers, the major group with the highest mortality rate, can be subdivided into several smaller groups of occupations, in bar chart below:

Among the lowest paid workers, men working in Elementary security occupations had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19

Also, construction workers have a higher rate of coronavirus-related deaths compared to other sectors with lower paid workers in construction seeing 25.9 deaths per 100,000 males, or 22 deaths.

Process, plant and machine operative occupations had one of the highest number of deaths overall (242 deaths). This group includes occupations whose main tasks are to operate and monitor industrial equipment, assemble products and drive or assist in the operation of transport vehicles.

In this group, road transport drivers were found to account for the largest proportion of deaths (69.0% of the major group deaths, or 18.5 deaths per 100,000 males).

And, among road transport drivers taxi and cab drivers including chauffeurs had the highest rate, with 36.4 deaths per 100,000 males (76 deaths). Other occupations with significantly higher rates include bus and coach drivers, with 26.4 deaths per 100,000 males (29 deaths).

Among male road transport drivers, taxi and cab inc chauffeurs had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19

Looking at the figures for women, only one of the nine major occupational groups had a statistically significantly higher mortality rate for deaths involving the COVID-19, that was the caring, leisure and other service occupations with a rate of 7.5 deaths per 100,000 females, equivalent to 130 deaths.

As with men, most of these deaths (88 deaths) were among personal care occupations, where the rate of female deaths involving COVID-19 was 10.1 deaths per 100,000 females. These deaths were largely from female care workers and home care workers (12.7 deaths per 100,000 females, or 66 deaths).

Women working in caring, leisure and other service occupations had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19 compared with women of the same age in the general population

The ONS has created an estimate of exposure to generic disease, and physical proximity to others, for UK occupations based on US analysis of these factors. They say that while working practices and conditions may be slightly different in the US for similar occupations, these estimates offer valuable insight into occupations that involve working in close proximity with others and those that are regularly exposed to diseases.

This is a useful indication of which roles may be more likely to come into contact with people with COVID-19.

There is a clear correlation between exposure to disease, and physical proximity to others across all occupations. Healthcare workers such as nurses and dental practitioners unsurprisingly both involve being exposed to disease on a daily basis, and they require close contact with others, though during the pandemic they are more likely have some protection if using PPE.

Workers in the education sector have lower exposure to disease than healthcare workers, but primary and nursery education teaching professionals, and special needs education professionals work in close proximity with pupils, and are more likely to be exposed to disease than secondary or higher education teaching professionals. Many have commented on the primary school re-opening with reception class children – have you ever seen a room full of five year olds socially distanced?

With this data in mind, this begs the question, why did the Government choose to open reception classes in primary schools first?

What do we know about occupations with closest proximity and highest exposure?

Some occupations involve working very closely with others (within arms length and often touching) and exposure to disease on a daily basis – the vast majority are healthcare professions. Looking at the characteristics of the workers in each of these occupations provides an insight into who might be more likely to be exposed to others with COVID-19 while doing their job.

There are more women working in occupations that are more likely to be in frequent contact with people and also frequently exposed to disease. Three in four workers (75%) in these roles are women. These include dental nurses, midwives, and veterinary nurses, where women make up the majority of workers.

One in five of those working in these occupations are aged 55 years or over, the same proportion as in the working population generally. Around half (50%) of those employed as care escorts are aged 55 years or over. Workers of this age are also over-represented in occupations like ambulance staff excluding paramedics (37%), houseparents (adults responsible for children in a residential childcare establishment, usually living in the same home) and residential wardens (35%), and prison service officers (24%).

One in five workers in these occupations are from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, compared with 11% of the working population. These workers make up around just over a quarter of the workers who are dental practitioners (28%), medical practitioners (28%) and ophthalmic opticians (27%). Additionally, they are over-represented in four other occupations – nurses, medical radiographers, nursing auxiliaries and assistants, and medical and dental technicians.

When it comes to pay, 6 out of 16 of these occupations have a median pay of lower than £13.21, the median hourly pay across the UK. Care escorts (who accompany vulnerable people on local journeys), dental nurses, and nursing auxiliaries and assistants have the lowest median pay per hour, ranging from £9.45 to £10.93. It’s the low paid who are at most risk.

You can use the interactive chart below to explore jobs, exposure and pay.

Those that earn the least, have most physical contact – more manual work – will be at greatest risk. Many of these jobs are done by BAME workers and women. All would be defined as working class.

Those with a vocation, those working in key jobs, those keeping us alive – we need to remember their contributions and never forget them. Thank you and clapping is not enough.

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