Understanding the impact of coronavirus on the workforce

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. Here Ben Humberstone looks at our latest releases, which analyse  the occupations that potentially face the biggest impact from COVID-19.

Today we’ve 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

What do the data tell us?

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 we 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 will be needed to look at this.

What types of workers are most exposed to disease?

Our occupations and exposure to disease analysis also looks at the characteristics of workers in occupations which are more likely to be in close contact with people and also frequently exposed to disease. Three in four workers in these roles are women. One in five of those working in these occupations are 55 or older, the same as in the working population generally. However, around half of those employed as care escorts are 55 or over. Also, one in five workers in these occupations are from black and minority ethnic groups, compared with just over one in 10 of the working population.

About the data

The data on deaths involving COVID-19 by occupation are based on provisional figures. This means it is possible that the results could change as more deaths are registered over the coming weeks. Due to the time period, the analysis includes all deaths with information on occupation that have been registered both before and after the lockdown. When more death registrations data are received, future analysis should see how the rate of death involving COVID-19 differs among occupations in the pre- and post-lockdown periods. Many of the people who have unfortunately died of COVID-19 included in this analysis will have been infected before social-distancing measures were put in place and we have no way of knowing whether individuals contracted the virus at work. Also, the analysis only considers the occupation of the deceased – we have not taken account of the occupations of others in the household.

Similarly, our occupations and exposure to disease analysis is based on survey results from before the pandemic, so will not take into account any recent changes in working practices.


Ben Humberstone, Deputy Director for Health Analysis and Life Events