Employers could be under-reporting Covid deaths

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Employers have “massively under-reported” the number of employees who have died after being exposed to Covid-19 at work, the TUC has claimed.

The trade union body said there was a discrepancy between the number of Covid deaths being reported by employers and official data from the Office for National Statistics.

Its analysis found that organisations claimed 387 workers died after contracting the coronavirus at work between April 2020 and April 2021, whereas the ONS said this figure was 15,263.

The difference in the figures was even more stark in the sectors that the ONS claimed had a high proportion of Covid-19-related deaths. Figures from the ONS show that between March 2020 and December 2020 more than 600 people working in the transport sector died, but reports filed by employers over the longer period of April 2020 to April 2021 showed just 10 deaths.

This was also true of the food production sector: ONS figures showed that 63 workers had died following Covid-19 exposure, whereas employer reports claimed there had been only three deaths.

The TUC said part of the reason for the discrepancy in the figures could be that under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013, employers are free to decide whether a Covid-19 diagnosis is the result of occupational exposure or from exposure outside of work.

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.”

The TUC also called for further funding for enforcement bodies including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It said there were 27% fewer HSE inspections carried out in the UK in 2019 than 2011.

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