Almost 400 deaths and 31,000 infections have been linked to people catching coronavirus at work since April, official figures revealed today.
Figures from Britain’s Health and Safety Executive, published by the GMB union, said 367 Covid deaths were reported as having ‘reasonable evidence’ of the person catching the virus at work.
Between April 10, 2020, and March 13, 2021, 31,380 infections were also associated with showing up at a shop, office, factory, warehouse or building site, it added.
Unions warned the figures were a ‘significant underestimate’ of the true toll on the workforce and said no-one should be forced to go into work afraid they would catch the virus.
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers accounted for almost 70 per cent of work-related Covid deaths (256 fatalities), followed by ‘personal service’ staff such as hairdressers, plumbers and cleaners (46) and factory workers (19).
Brits were ordered to work from home where possible at the start of the pandemic, with millions put on the £41billion furlough scheme as cafes, restaurants and shops were ordered to close.
But many including police officers, bus drivers, delivery staff, shop staff and healthcare workers have worked continuously through the first and second waves.
Previous data from the Office for National statistics found transport workers and carers were among the professions suffering the highest number of Covid deaths.
More than 126,670 Britons have died from the virus, and 4.3million infections have been reported since the pandemic began, according to the official toll.
Britain’s workplace regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it had received reports there was ‘reasonable evidence’ 367 Covid deaths were due to going to work. It found almost 70 per cent of these were in healthcare staff, followed by personal care workers including hairdressers, plumbers and cleaners
Its figures also showed the number reported varied over time in line with the first and second waves of the pandemic
The HSE’s job as regulator is to make sure employers follow health and safety guidelines to prevent deaths, injuries or ill-health.
Employers are required to report to the HSE or local council every time an employee dies of Covid-19 and there is ‘reasonable evidence’ they caught the virus at work.
But the regulator notes its data suffers from ‘widespread under-reporting’, which could give a ‘distorted view’ of the spread and scale of cases and deaths in the workforce.
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Source: Health and Safety Executive reports between April 10 last year and March 13.
When broken down by time, its figures showed the number of deaths and cases fluctuating with the country’s first and second waves.
The highest number of fatalities was reported in the week to May 2, 2020, at the tail end of the first wave, when 23 Covid deaths were linked to exposure in the workplace.
The second highest was in the seven-day spell to February 6, 2021, after the second wave, when 22 Covid deaths were reported by employers.
For comparison, the Department of Health registered 494 Covid deaths on May 2, and 699 on February 6 alone.
Most deaths have been in care homes and older people, who are most at risk of hospitalisation or death if they catch the virus and are generally retired.
The national secretary for the GMB union, Rehana Azam, said the figures revealed a ‘damning reality’ that too many workplaces were still not safe.
‘No-one should go to work in fear of their life,’ she said.
‘Each worker’s death was preventable and the damning reality is that too many workplaces are still not safe.
‘The fact that 70 per cent of reported workers’ deaths are in the health and care sector should be a wake-up call, and sadly these figures are likely the tip of the iceberg.
‘Across the country too many people still face insecure workplaces and inadequate PPE.
‘These figures shine a new light on the abject failure of too many to keep workplaces safe.
‘Seven out of 10 reported infections were since the start of the second wave, when the steps required to limit the spread of the virus were well understood.’
The GMB Union obtained the figures after submitting a Freedom of Information request to the HSE.