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Unions want tough safety rules as data suggests greater risk in certain jobs.


UNION bosses have urged the Government to introduce tough workplace safety rules following concern over figures indicating higher rates of deaths involving Covid-19 in certain occupations.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday suggests that male carers, bus drivers, security guards, chefs and retail assistants have higher rates of death involving the disease than other workers.

Researchers also found that people working in social care, including care workers and home carers, have "significantly" higher death rates involving Covid-19 than the working population as a whole.

The figures come as the UK Government unveiled its conditional plan to ease lockdown measures in England, which includes asking those who cannot work from home to travel to work if their workplace is open from tomorrow.

Detailed "Covid-19 Secure" guidelines for how businesses can reduce the risk of infection among their workforce is due to be published this week.

The UK Government said sectors that are allowed to open under the first step of easing lockdown include food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. Hospitality and "non-essential retail" sectors must remain closed.

The UK Government said that for the foreseeable future workers should continue to work from home wherever possible and employers should "make every effort" to support this by providing suitable IT and equipment. But TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady claimed the ONS figures showed the Government was "failing on workplace safety - with horrific consequences for our lowest-paid and most precarious workers".

She said ministers should introduce and enforce "tough new rules on workplace safety", adding: "This can't wait any longer. Workers' lives are on the line."

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the data was "a devastating confirmation that Covid-19 thrives on inequality and that those in low-paid, insecure work have been left exposed and vulnerable".

He added: "Everyone must be protected properly from this horrific virus. Ordering people back to work without proper protection puts them and everyone else at risk."

The UK Government urged employers to make "socially responsible" decisions over working arrangements and reach "a pragmatic agreement" with staff.

Previously issued workplace guidance has spelled out the importance of maintaining social distance and frequent cleaning of communal surfaces and areas.

Workers with concerns over employers' actions can report them to their local authority or the Health and Safety Executive, the Government said.

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said new workplace guidance had to "provide extensive detail on how each sector is expected to manage their staff and working environments".

"Employers and employees need that reassurance," he said.

Meanwhile, Prof Neil Pearce, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the ONS report emphasised that "we need to look beyond health and social care, and that there is a broad range of occupations which may be at risk from Covid-19".

"These are many of the same occupations that are now being urged to return to work, in some instances without proper safety measures and PPE (personal protective equipment) being in place," he added.

The ONS data suggested that men working in several occupations had raised rates of deaths involving Covid-19 when compared with people of the same age and sex in England and Wales.

Security guards had one of the highest rates with 45.7 deaths per 100,000, while taxi drivers and chauffeurs had a rate of 36.4.

Male bus and coach drivers were found to have a rate of 26.4 deaths per 100,000, chefs a rate of 35.9, and sales and retail assistants a rate of 19.8.

The figures are based on an analysis of the 2,494 registered deaths involving coronavirus among workers aged 20 to 64 in England and Wales up to and including April 20.

Overall, researchers found that nearly two-thirds of these deaths were among men (1,612), with a rate of 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

This is higher than the 882 deaths among women, representing a rate of 5.2 deaths involving Covid-19 per 100,000.

For male social care workers in England and Wales, the rate of death involving Covid-19 is estimated to be 23.4 deaths per 100,000 males, while for female social care workers the figure is 9.6.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 12, 2020
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