Understanding the impact of coronavirus on the workforce

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

For more than a month now, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been producing extra information about the various ways in which UK society and the economy are being affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. On Monday, the ONS published additional analysis looking at how deaths in England and Wales related to COVID-19 vary by occupation, and also on the occupations in the UK that have the highest potential exposure to COVID-19.

The two articles show that, generally, occupations with the most frequent and close interaction with others have greater exposure to disease and some of these occupations also have high rates of COVID-19 deaths.

Compared with the rate among people of the same age and sex, men working in the lowest skilled occupations had the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths: for example, men working as security guards had one of the highest rates. Other specific occupations among men also had raised rates of COVID-19 deaths, including taxi drivers and chauffeurs, bus and coach drivers, chefs and sales and retail assistants.

Due to the nature of these roles requiring close contact with people, employees in these occupations may be more likely to come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

While the ONS can say with confidence that there are higher rates of death from COVID-19 among these occupational groups even taking into account age and sex, there may be other factors such as ethnicity and where people live that will help explain these findings.

What about health and social care professionals?

Despite being exposed to disease on a daily basis, and requiring close contact with others, health care workers, such as doctors and nurses, did not have higher rates of COVID-19 deaths compared with the rate among those of the same age and sex in the population as a whole.

This could be because during the pandemic they are more likely to be using personal protective equipment (PPE), or have a greater knowledge of how diseases spread and are thus more likely to follow hygiene measures such as handwashing. Also, there may be deaths in some occupations which have not been registered yet because a coroner’s inquest is required.

Even though our analysis suggests that social care occupations have a lower exposure to disease than healthcare workers, both men and women working in social care had significantly raised rates of COVID-19 deaths. There are many different reasons why this could be the case and further work by the ONS will be needed to look at this.

You can read more about the ONS analysis of the impact of coronavirus on the workforce on the ONS blog here.