Employers are significantly under-reporting the number of people who have died after being exposed to Covid-19 at work, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The union said there was a large discrepancy between the number of people of working age who had died from Covid-19 and the number of reports of work-related deaths by employers.
It pointed out that while Office for National Statistics figures showed that between April 2020 and April 2021 15,263 people of working age had died of Covid-19, employers had reported just 387 deaths from workers contracting the disease at work.
The TUC said it believed the true number of work-related deaths was much higher, and highlighted sectors such as food production and transport as having been particular guilty of under-reporting.
In a report published last week the union pointed out that between March and December last year, more than 600 people working in the transport sector died of Covid-19, but between April 2020 and April 2021 just 10 work-related deaths were reported in the sector.
Similarly, while 63 food production workers died from Covid-19 over the same period, just three were reported as work-related.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, 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.”
‘Letting bosses off the hook’
“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,” she continued.
O’Grady said the pandemic had highlighted deficiencies in the way workplace deaths were reported, and added, “the current system is letting bosses off the hook”.
At present, employers are required by law to report deaths, injuries and illnesses that take place at work or are in connection with work through the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) mechanism.
However, it is up to employers to decide whether a Covid-19 infection is the result of workplace exposure or transmission outside work and as is clear from the data, in most cases employers have decided on the latter and not reported the death.
The TUC said this has prevented the HSE from carrying out inspections and making sure employers take action to keep workers and the public safe.
Better enforcement needed
It also called on the government to provide more funding for the HSE, which the TUC said had had its funding cut by more than 50% in real terms over the past decade, leading to a sharp fall in workplace inspections.
“Ministers must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute companies who don’t keep their workers safe,” said O’Grady.
This view was echoed by Darren Hockley, Managing Director at training provider DeltaNet International: “The government needs to ensure companies understand the consequences of not following protocols and guidelines, by prosecuting those who continually fail to keep their employees safe.”
He added that the problem went beyond accurate reporting of deaths. “Not only does the report reveal that employers are not reporting the number of Covid-19 infections, but it also suggests that employers are not putting in place the right health and safety procedures to protect their workers.
“Organisations have a responsibility to protect their employees. Health and safety responsibility doesn’t stop at fire safety policies, with Covid-19, it’s ensuring employees work socially distanced, there is a one-way system in the workplace and there is easy access to ensure workstations are continuously sanitised for starters.”
Photo courtesy of Canva.com