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With the lockdown easing, now may be the time to look at which workers are most at risk from Covid-19. It might not be the ones you think.

Mortality rates among construction workers, for example, are higher than those among health workers. Provisional analysis by the Office of National Statistics reveals that it is the lower paid jobs where employees are most at risk of dying from Covid-19. These include cleaners, chefs, carers, leisure-related workers, and sales and retail assistants.

It is important to recognise that it is people in these jobs who are most at risk. While the jobs might increase the risk, through exposure to the virus for example, there are many other factors at play. People in these jobs might be more likely to be from an ethnic background, be suffering financial hardship, or already have health problems.

What does this mean for employers?

The government has provided sector-specific guidance. If you haven’t read it already it is important to do so. There are links below. We’ve also provided some generic guidance in a separate blog.

The need to educate. Not everyone is observing social distancing. When I take my daily exercise, I see construction workers (for example) compromising it. It is hard to appreciate this invisible risk but as an employer you need to take it seriously and employees may need reminding. Procedures for sanitisation, hand-washing, and staggered work are likely to need explaining and, occasionally, reinforced. Use the disciplinary procedure to get the message across when necessary; no need to hesitate.

The need to re-assure. Conversely, others are scared; understandably perhaps. But Professor Whitty said, at one point, that for most this is a mild disease. Some have speculated that millions in the UK alone may have had it already, often without knowing. If you are taking the right steps, then the risk should be comparable to other risks that we find acceptable – such as driving to work.

The need for understanding. Undoubtedly some individuals are at greater risks than others. Irrespective of the job, these are older employees, individuals from some ethnic minorities, over-weight employees and those already deemed to be vulnerable or extremely vulnerable. You will need to have discussions with anxious people. If furlough is still an option, you should consider it (and provide it for the extremely vulnerable). Furthermore, you should not coerce anyone into working in a situation in which they feel scared. But it need not be an opportunity for an employee to have a break from employment without good reason. Before you make decision about making a concession of some kind or forcing an issue, a meeting whether by Zoom, or at a distance, is essential.

Government guidance

Workers are at risk from Covid-19 and employers have a duty of care.

*Please get in touch if you need any support – we are advising organisations daily on all HR elements of COVID-19.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

Blogs are for general guidance and are not an authoritative statement of the law.