Lower income essential workers at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19

28 July 2020

A new report published on 28 July 2020 by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found that low income frontline workers, considered to be essential to the economic and social health of Ireland, face the highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection.

The report, entitled The Differences in Risk of Severe Outcomes from Covid-19 Across Occupations in Ireland, raises concerns for those workers who are most at risk including carers, meat plant employees, taxi drivers, security guards, cleaners and migrant workers.

The authors attempted to identify the highest risk groups by looking at a combination of:

  • existing health conditions,
  • age, and
  • social deprivation rates across various occupation

These three categories have been linked to worse health outcomes, including more severe illness, hospitalisation and mortality.

Here are some of the key findings and outcomes from the research:

  • Policies to ensure vulnerable, essential workers are adequately protected are needed.
  • More than 15 per cent of workers generally have a COVID-19-vulnerable illness such as chronic heart disease and respiratory disease, diabetes, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cancer, kidney disease and asthma. However, those most likely to have conditions are more common in some sectors than others.
  • Those in housekeeping and related services have the highest proportion of underlying conditions that could cause complications with COVID-19 infection at 33.9 per cent. They are followed in order of risk by road transport drivers (25.8 per cent).
  • The most vulnerable workers in terms of age are farmers, followed by housekeepers and transport drivers.
  • In terms of specific jobs, the ESRI report notes that carers in particular have high rates of underlying health conditions, are older, and are more likely to live in more deprived areas.

Vulnerable workers

  • Meat plant employees

At 6 June 2020, there were 1,048 confirmed cases among workers in meat processing plants. Despite having a younger age profile, meat plant workers were found to have a high risk to COVID-19 based on their vulnerable illness rates (19 per cent) and living in more deprived areas.

  • Road transport drivers

A quarter of the 70,000 road transport drivers, including large goods vehicles (LGV), vans, buses and taxis, report having such serious diseases. Taxi drivers are constantly interacting with the public, increasing their risk of infection, the report notes.

  • Housekeepers

Housekeepers who may be returning to workplaces as the economy reopens are also among the higher risk groups. This is also probably the case for general migrant workers due to lower dissemination of public health advice or the probability of living in more overcrowded homes.

Socio-economic divide
The authors also highlight how the health crisis has further exposed the socio-economic disparities between various occupations in Ireland.

“Often it is those occupations most essential to the running of society and the economy that tend to have workers who are in lower paying and less secure professions,” they write.

“Yet these workers have been at the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis, a frontline that spans both healthcare and non-healthcare workers.”

The occupations that disproportionately live in areas of high deprivation, according to the ESRI, are cleaning and security, factory workers, care workers, housekeeping-related workers, and transport drivers. It concludes that special efforts should be made to protect these workers from Covid-19.

Sources:irishtimes.com and rte.ie