Covid work-related deaths under-reported, says TUC
02 June 2021
THE NUMBER of people who have died from exposure to Covid at work is being “massively under-reported” by employers, according to a new TUC report.
The report highlights a huge discrepancy between Covid work-related deaths reported by employers and data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Public Health England.
Between April 2020 and April 2021 the ONS reported that 15,263 people of working age died from Covid.
But according to reports filed by employers just 387 (2.5 per cent) of these deaths came from workers contracting Covid at work.
The union body says this under-reporting has badly undermined health and safety regulation enforcement during the pandemic with employers less likely to face action from regulators for putting staff at risk.
Under-reporting in at-risk sectors
The TUC’s report shows that in sectors with high numbers of deaths during the pandemic - like food production and transport - only a small fraction of deaths have been reported as work-related by employers.
Figures from the ONS show that between March 2020 and December 2020 more than 600 people working in the transport sector died.
But according to reports filed by employers (over the longer period of April 2020 to April 2021) just 10 deaths in the transport sector were work-related.
And figures from the ONS show that 63 food production workers died between March 2020 and December 2020.
But according to data supplied by employers (over the longer period of April 2020 to April 2021) just three of these deaths were the result of work.
The TUC believes the true number of work-related deaths in these and other sectors are much higher, especially considering the high number of breaches of safety protocols we have seen during the pandemic and the high numbers of outbreaks.
Reporting system “letting bad bosses off the hook”
Employers are required by law to report deaths, injuries and illnesses that take place at work or in connection with work.
This is done through a mechanism called RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) which logs work-related deaths, illnesses and injuries for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
But under the current reporting system employers are given “free rein” to decide whether a Covid-19 diagnosis is the result of occupational exposure or from exposure outside of work premises.
The TUC says this loophole has led to employers not reporting the true scale of Covid work-related deaths and infections to the HSE, despite this information being vital to containing the spread of the virus.
The TUC says that for the HSE to do its job effectively it must possess an accurate and up-to-date picture of where and when work-related deaths and infections are taking place.
But during the pandemic it has only been provided with very partial information from employers.
This has prevented the HSE from carrying out potentially urgent inspections and ensuring employers take the necessary action to keep workers and the public safe, says the report.
TUC analysis shows that just 1 in 218 workplaces has been inspected by the HSE (between March 2020 and April 2021) and not one single employer has been prosecuted for putting staff at risk.
The union body says this “crisis of regulation and enforcement” has allowed bad bosses to get away with flagrant labour rights abuses – adding that the pandemic has highlighted Britain’s enforcement system’s long-standing deficiencies.
New approach needed to health and safety
As well as calling for improvements in the way work-related delated deaths and infections are reported, the union body says government must reverse cuts to the HSE of the past decade, which it says left the country “under-prepared and vulnerable” to the pandemic.
The last ten years has seen real term cuts of 50 per cent to the HSE budget, on top of local authority budgets being slashed.
There has also been a dramatic decline in inspections. There were 27 per cent fewer HSE inspections carried out in the UK in 2019 than 2011, amounting to a fall of over 5,700 a year.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Everybody deserves to be safe at work. But this pandemic has exposed a crisis in health and safety regulation and enforcement.
“Employers have massively under-reported Covid work-related deaths and infections.
“This has made it much harder for regulators to track where outbreaks are happening and allowed bad bosses to get away with flagrant labour rights abuses.
“It’s staggering that not a single employer has been prosecuted for putting workers at risk of contracting Covid-19.
“The government must fix the deficiencies in how workplace deaths, illnesses and injuries are reported. The current system is letting bosses off the hook.
“And ministers must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute companies who don’t keep their workers safe.”