According to a TUC analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people who have died from exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) at work is being “massively under-reported” by employers.

Between April 2020 and April 2021, the ONS reported that more than 15,000 working age people died from the illness, while reports filed by employers indicated that only 387 (2.5 per cent) of these deaths came from workers contracting it at work. 

Some sectors have fared worse than others. For instance, the ONS figures show that between March and December 2020, more than 600 people working in the transport sector died, while employers filed just 10 deaths over the longer period of April 2020 to April 2021. 

Although employers are required by law to report deaths, injuries and illnesses that take place at work or in connection with work under The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013, the TUC says they have been given free rein under the current reporting system. This has allowed employers to decide whether a coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnosis is the result of occupational exposure or exposure from outside the workplace. 

The TUC says this loophole has led to employers not reporting the true scale of work-related deaths and infections to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), despite this information being vital to containing the spread of the virus. 

TUC analysis also shows that just one in 218 workplaces had been inspected by the HSE between March 2020 and April 2021 and not one single employer has been prosecuted for putting staff at risk.  

The last 10 years have seen real term cuts of 50 per cent to the HSE budget as well as a dramatic decline in inspections. There were 27 per cent fewer HSE inspections carried out in the UK in 2019 than 2011, amounting to a fall of more than 5,700 a year.

As well as calling for improvements in the way work-related deaths and infections are reported, the union body says the government must reverse the cuts to the HSE which have left the country “under-prepared and vulnerable” to the pandemic.  

You can read the report in full here.