Coronavirus doubles risk of death in several occupations

Out-Law News | 30 Mar 2021 | 8:42 am | 2 min. read

A study has concluded that coronavirus has resulted in a two-fold increase in the risk of death for workers in several occupations, including social care, nursing, bus and taxi driving, food processing, retail work, local and national administration and security.

The risk was particularly high for male workers, although the risk was also elevated for female workers in these occupations.

The report by the Industrial Injuries Advisories Council (IIAC) analysed UK death certificate and RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Regulations) data, and concluded that there was a “clear association” between several occupations and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.

The IIAC found reports made through RIDDOR, although likely to have been underreported, mirrored mortality data and also provided evidence of high numbers of Covid-19 cases in occupations such as education.

However, the IIAC said the consistency and extent of the mortality data, and the scarcity of information regarding any link between occupation and risk of disability after contracting Covid-19, meant it would not yet recommend that the virus should be put on the ‘prescribed’ list of diseases covered by Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

Health and safety expert Kevin Bridges of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said employers’ duties to take reasonable measures to protect the health and safety of their workers had continued through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This involves regular risk assessment and implementation of mitigation measures. Those risk assessments and mitigation measures must keep pace with developing knowledge,” Bridges said.

“For Covid-19, this means keeping up to date with regulator and public health information and adapting quickly to apply as much control as practicable for the workplace concerned. That includes continual updating of risk assessments, mitigation measures and associated training as developments occur.  Crucially, there must also be a culture of compliance within a business so that there can be no suggestion of pressure to cut corners,” Bridges said.

Bridges said employers should not forget that the basics of good health and safety risk management remained the number one priority, but with necessary enhancements brought about by the risk of Covid-19.

“While the difficulties with attributing Covid-19 to occupational infection are well known, this cannot be seen as an excuse for failing in health and safety obligations. Working in close proximity to others, no or inadequate personal protection equipment and individual characteristics are well known risk indicators of likely infection and must be considered and mitigated,” Bridges said.

“Those involved in the sectors specifically mentioned in the report should take particular note and review their policies and procedures to ensure they are in line with current thinking; the level of intervention they will require is likely to be proportionally higher to achieve optimal control. Employers must also ensure that where an outbreak does occur, careful consideration is given to whether a RIDDOR report is required,” Bridges said.

The IIAC said it was prudent for employers to apply as many preventative measures as possible to workplaces to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, with the level of intervention proportionally higher for high-risk occupations.

The group is also planning to continue monitoring research on Covid-19 in the workplace and communities, and said it would recommend that the virus be listed as a prescribed disease if and when there is strong enough evidence that occupational exposures cause disabling disease on the “balance of probabilities”.