Deaths on the job

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.

Transport unions demand action over covid-19 death rates

Transport trade unions are demanding that the government take urgent action after figures published today by the Office for National Statistics show that male bus and taxi drivers were amongst the occupations with a raised rate of death involving COVID-19. The ONS analysis reveals:

“Among men, a number of other specific occupations were found to have raised rates of death involving COVID-19, including: taxi drivers and chauffeurs (36.4 deaths per 100,000); bus and coach drivers (26.4 deaths per 100,000).”

According to the RMT, the Government has failed to convene a national Coronavirus safety forum with unions and employers to establish safe working practices, despite multiple requests for it to do so since the onset of COVID-19 – and today’s analysis shows the price for this failing.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“These figures are a sobering reminder that frontline bus and taxi workers across the country are being put at risk by the Government’s failure to ensure that workers in these sectors are adequately protected from COVID-19.

“For example, despite the high rate of deaths in the bus industry, the Government still has not convened a Coronavirus safety forum for this sector, months into lockdown. After the PM’s ambiguous statement last night, bus workers across the country will now be anxious that they will be put at risk by any increase in passenger numbers, before rigorous safety measures are implemented.

“RMT’s position on this is unequivocal – we will not allow our bus and taxi members to be put at risk and are calling on the government to take urgent action to protect these key workers.”

RMT is calling for the protection of workers in these sectors, and for the convening of a National Coronavirus Safety Summit to agree a national plan to protect workers and passengers in the sector.

Meanwhile, Unite the Union, Assistant General Secretary, Diana Holland said“These figures are alarming and it is imperative that we learn all the lessons possible now and when this pandemic is over that there is a full public inquiry into these deaths.

“We must never forget this is not about statistics, but each and every death is an individual tragedy where a loved one has died.

“While lessons need to be learned for the future, it is immediately imperative that all workplaces examine these figures and urgently revisit how more effective measures can be taken to protect workers who have remained in work or who are returning to the workplace. Thorough risk assessments are vital and government needs to make sure they happen.

“This is only an early snapshot of this dreadful disease but it is clear that lower paid workers often from a BAME background have been at the greatest risk of dying during the pandemic.

“An inquiry is needed to understand if measures such as the lockdown was introduced too late and whether frontline workers were able to effectively socially distance at work, if effective cleaning regimes were in place and if workers were provided with the necessary PPE to properly protect them.”

The Health & Safety Executive have said:

“By consulting and involving people in steps you are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace you can:

  • explain the changes you are planning to work safely
  • make sure changes will work and hear their ideas
  • continue to operate your business safely during the outbreak

You should share the results of your risk assessment with your workforce. If possible, you should consider publishing the results on your website (and the government expects all employers with over 50 workers to do so).”