Men working in process plants, as security guards or as chefs had some of the highest Covid-19 death rates in 2020, new figures show.
Plant workers recorded a rate of 143.2 deaths per 100,000 males, compared with a rate of 31.4 among men of the same age in the wider population.
For security guards and related occupations the figure stood at 100.7 deaths per 100,000 males.
Among female workers, some of the highest Covid-19 deaths were for jobs involving assembly lines and routine machine operations, such as sewing machinists, as well as care workers and home carers.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the pandemic has exposed “huge inequalities” in the labour market, with those in lower-paid jobs often forced to put themselves at risk.
The figures have been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and cover deaths registered in England and Wales between March 9 and December 28 2020.
Ben Humberstone, ONS head of health analysis and life events, said: “Jobs with regular exposure to Covid-19 and those working in close proximity to others continue to have higher Covid-19 death rates when compared with the rest of the working age population.
“Men continue to have higher rates of death than women, making up nearly two-thirds of these deaths.”
The figures do not prove that rates of death are caused directly by differences in employment, however.
“There are a complex combination of factors that influence the risk of death, from your age and your ethnicity, where you live and who you live with, to pre-existing health conditions,” Mr Humberstone added. “Our findings do not prove that the rates of death involving Covid-19 are caused by differences in occupational exposure.”
Of all the male deaths involving Covid-19 registered in England up to December 28 2020 where an occupation was listed, the ONS found that 120 deaths were of people who worked in process plants (a rate of 143.2 deaths per 100,000 males), while 140 deaths were among security guards and related occupations (100.7).
Both of these rates were more than three times the rate for deaths involving Covid-19 among all men aged 20 to 64 (31.4).
Other occupations with high rates of death for males included:
– Restaurant and catering establishment managers and proprietors (119.3 deaths per 100,000 males; 26 deaths)
– Chefs (103.1 deaths per 100,000 males; 82 deaths)
– Taxi and cab drivers and chauffeurs (101.4 deaths per 100,000 males; 209 deaths)
– Bus and coach drivers (70.3 deaths per 100,000 males; 83 deaths)
Among women, plant and machine operatives accounted for 57 deaths (33.7 deaths per 100,000 females).
Of these, assemblers and routine operatives – such as sewing machinists – accounted for 21 deaths (39.2)
By comparison, the rate for deaths involving Covid-19 among all women aged 20 to 64 was 16.8.
Other occupations with high rates of death for females included:
– Sales and retail assistants (26.9 deaths per 100,000 females; 111 deaths)
– Social workers (32.4 deaths per 100,000 females; 25 deaths)
– Managers and directors in retail and wholesale (26.7 deaths per 100,000 females, 24 deaths)
Rates of death involving Covid-19 among male and female social care workers in 2020 were “statistically significantly higher” than those for the wider working population, the ONS said.
A total of 469 Covid-19 deaths among social care workers were registered in England and Wales, with rates of 79.0 deaths per 100,000 males and 35.9 deaths per 100,000 females.
Among healthcare workers – including doctors, nurses, ambulance staff and hospital porters – men had a statistically significant higher rate of death involving Covid-19 (44.9 deaths per 100,000 males), while for women the rate was not significantly different (17.3 deaths per 100,000).
The TUC claimed workplace Covid-19 deaths have been “vastly under-reported”.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone should be safe at work. But this pandemic has exposed huge inequalities in our labour market.
“People working in low-paid and insecure jobs have been forced to shoulder much higher risk, with too many losing their lives.
“The Government urgently needs to beef up its workplace safety guidance and get tough on employers who put their workers in harm’s way.”
Meanwhile, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) called for drivers to be listed as a priority group for the Covid-19 vaccine.
Association general secretary Steve McNamara said: “These extremely concerning figures further underline the need for taxi drivers to be one of the priority groups for Covid-19 vaccinations once the initial vulnerable groups set by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have been completed, which the LTDA and others have been calling for since the vaccination programme began.”
“Hard-working licensed taxi drivers are key workers, many of whom have been providing logistical support for the NHS and supporting elderly and vulnerable people to travel as safely as possible and make essential journeys, throughout the pandemic.”
Unison union general secretary Christina McAnea said the Government must guarantee proper pay for care workers who are ill or are having to self-isolate.
“Sick or self-isolating care staff and home care workers still feel forced to attend work by shameless employers,” she said.
“This is because they’re being denied full wages.
“This unacceptable situation puts staff at risk and the people they look after. It must end.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The fact the rate of death amongst nursing staff is significantly higher than the general population highlights the absolute need to properly investigate why this is happening and give them the protection they need.”