According to analysis by the Trades Union Congress, employers are significantly under-reporting the amount of COVID-deaths which have occurred due to the person contracting the virus from the workplace.
The TUC have warned that the number of people who have died from exposure to COVID at work is being “massively under-reported” by employers.
The body claims that there is a significant discrepancy between COVID work-related deaths reported by employers and data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Public Health England.
Over the past year (April 2020-April 2021), the Office for National Statistics reported that 15,263 people of working age died as a result of catching the virus.
However, according to reports filed by employers, only 2.5 per cent of these deaths (or 387 cases) were as a result of workers contracting COVID-19 at work.
The union body further warns that this practice is prevalent in sectors that are high-risk for deaths during the pandemic such as food production or transport.
ONS data also showed that, between March 2020 and December 2020, over 600 people working in the transport sector died. However, again, between April 2020 to April 2021, only 10 deaths in the transport sector were work-related and filed as such by employers.
Furthermore, figures also showed that 63 food production workers died between the same period and just three of these deaths were filed as resulting from work.
Current legislation outlines that employers are required by law to report deaths, injuries and illnesses that take place at work or in connection with work.
However, the TUC notes that the present reporting system gives employers the power to decide whether a COVID-19 diagnosis is the result of occupational exposure or from exposure outside of work premises.
The body warns that this under-reporting could have an impact on the effectiveness of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as it requires an accurate and up-to-date picture of where and when work-related deaths and infections are taking place.
It further stated that this is preventing the HSE from carrying out potentially urgent inspections and ensuring employers take the necessary action to keep workers and the public safe. As such, only one in 218 workplaces have been inspected during the pandemic.
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. 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.
*These figures were obtained by the TUC’s ‘Riggor, Covid and Under-reporting’ report released in May 2021.