Occupation and Covid-19 mortality in England
7 December 2021
Date: August 2020
Research led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the Office for National Statistics Secure Research Service investigated the variation between occupations in Covid-19 fatalities. The findings, which suggest working conditions are likely to play a role in Covid -19 mortality, have helped develop a wider view of mortality distribution throughout the pandemic. This has supported the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in deciding issues of compensation for occupational disease in the workplace.
Greater mortality risk was found in roles with contact with the public, such as bus drivers and healthcare workers, particularly those working in intensive care units and those involved in wider social care. These findings have been used by the Industrial and Advisory Council to resolve issues of compensation for occupational disease and as evidence of differences in occupational risk. This research was funded by UK Government Grants, the Colt Foundation and Wellcome Trust.
Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, is a longitudinal survey of the members of approximately 40,000 households in the United Kingdom. Households are visited each year to collect information on changes to their household and individual circumstances. Interviews are carried out face-to-face in respondents’ homes by trained interviewers or through a self-completion online survey. Young people aged 10-15 complete a youth questionnaire, while respondents aged 16 and over complete the adult survey.
This research also used:
Occupations were coded according to Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) unit groups, using four-digit classifiers (e.g., ‘8213’ for bus and coach drivers). Health outcomes, including symptoms, positive tests, hospitalisations, intensive care admissions, and deaths, were compared across occupational groups. Poisson regressions – a method of modelling count data (e.g., deaths due to Covid-19) – were used to identify statistically significant correlations to independent variables. Several models were evaluated for combinations of independent socioeconomic variables, including occupation, age, sex, ethnicity, deprivation and region.
The research found health workers were at the greatest risk of exposure to, transmission of, and death due to Covid-19. Intensive care workers and those directly caring for Covid-19 patients were shown to be at particular risk. Other professions in the social care sector also carried a greater risk. Outside of these two groups, those with direct contact with the public were found to have a greater risk of Covid-19 mortality.
SOC unit group
Large goods vehicle drivers
Bus and coach drivers
Taxi and cab drivers and chauffeurs
All mean aged 20 to 64 years
Mortality rate in selected Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) unit groups.
The researchers found several shortcomings of the datasets. For example, Covid-19 test data were found to be heavily biased towards healthcare professionals. The researchers also found that random surveys were affected by non-response and recommended further analysis and triangulation of findings before attributing risk to any given sector. These findings highlighted the importance of strong methodologies when researching Covid-19, in particular the challenges of identifying and resolving bias within the data.
The finding that working conditions are likely to play a role in Covid-19 mortality has helped develop a wider view of mortality distribution throughout the pandemic. This has supported the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in deciding issues of compensation for occupational disease in the workplace as evidence of differences in occupational risk.
Publications and reports
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Research Online : Occupational differences in COVID-19 incidence, severity, and mortality in the United Kingdom: Available data and framework for analyses.
- Industrial Injuries Advisory Council Position Paper, COVID-19 and occupation: Position Paper 48
- British Medical Journal, Occupational differences in COVID-19 incidence, severity, and mortality in the United Kingdom: Available data and framework for analyses: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34141900/
About the ONS Secure Research Service
The ONS Secure Reseach Service (SRS) is an accredited trusted research environment, using the Five Safes Framework to provide secure access to de-identified, unpublished data. If you would like to discuss writing a future case study with us, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org