The mortality rate from COVID-19 in the UK peaked in manual workers in processing plants, security guards and those in 'elementary occupations' including construction and care workers, according to calculations on death rates from COVID-19 in the working age population.
In total, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for 7 March 2020 to 28 December 2020 suggest that men in six out of nine broad occupational categories experienced a 'statistically significant' rate of fatal cases compared to the working population as a whole.
Working age women were less at risk of dying of COVID-19, however, with raised mortality rates seen in just three of the ONS’s nine principle categories.
Overall, there were 7961 registered in England and Wales between 9 March and 28 December 2020 following a positive COVID test. Of these, 5128 were men and 2833 women.
That gives a prevalence rate of 31.5 deaths per 100,000 for working age men, and 16.8 deaths per 100,000 working-age women.
Male nursing staff, doctors and healthcare workers also died of COVID-19 at rates above that of the general working population: men in healthcare occupations saw 44.9 deaths per 100,000 (190 cases). The rate among women in healthcare occupations (at 17.3 deaths per 100,000 and 224 deaths) was statistically similar to the rate in the population.
Men continue to have higher rates of death than women, making up nearly two thirds of these deaths
But looking specifically at nurses, there was a higher rate with 79.1 deaths per 100,000 men, and 24.5 deaths per 100,000 females; nursing auxiliaries and assistants also had an elevated mortality rate.
The ONS found that teaching and education professionals were not at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than the rest of the workforce, with 139 deaths recorded between March and December (73 female and 66 male.)
This equates to 18.4 deaths per 100,000 men and 9.8 deaths per 100,000 women, or a rate lower than the average for the working age population.
Overall, the ONS acknowledges that employees working in close proximity to colleagues appears to raise the risk of dying from COVID-19 death above that of the rest of the working population.
However, the government’s statistical body stops short of declaring that particular occupations are a risk factor for dying of COVID-19, as its data is not statistically robust enough to draw firm conclusions: while the data was adjusted for age, it does not factor in different ethnicities or geographies.
Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: '[The] analysis shows that jobs with regular exposure to COVID-19 and those working in close proximity to others continue to have higher COVID-19 death rates when compared with the rest of the working age population. Men continue to have higher rates of death than women, making up nearly two thirds of these deaths.
'As the pandemic has progressed, we have learnt more about the disease and the communities it impacts most. There are a complex combination of factors that influence the risk of death; from your age and your ethnicity, where you live and who you live with, to pre-existing health conditions.
'Our findings do not prove that the rates of death involving COVID-19 are caused by differences in occupational exposure.'
The sector worst-affected by COVID-19 mortality was elementary occupations, where there were 66.3 COVID-19 related deaths per 100,000 men (699 deaths); for women the figure was 21.1 deaths per 100,000, with 227 deaths.
According to the ONS, the highest number of death certificates were for 'elementary process plant workers', performing manual work in processing or manufacturing businesses.
This sub-category recorded 143.2 deaths per 100,000 male workers (120 deaths), or roughly five times the all-sector average for men; women in these roles also had a mortality rate double the background average, at 33.7 deaths per 100,000, or 57 deaths.
Other categories with statistically high COVID-19 mortality were process, plant and machine operatives and skilled trades occupations
The figures for the construction sector were also raised: 'elementary construction occupations' saw 82.1 deaths per 100,000 men, with 70 deaths.
Security guards and related occupations had the next highest rate of death, with 140 deaths, representing 100.7 deaths for every 100,000 men in such jobs – roughly three times the all-worker average for men.
Caring, leisure and other service occupations was the next category with a high COVID mortality rate, at 64.1 deaths per 100,000 men and 27.3 deaths per 100,000 women.
Within this category, mortality peaked among care home workers and those who provide personal care in people’s homes: there were 109.9 deaths per 100,000 males and 47.1 deaths per 100,000 females – a level three times the average for women in the workforce.
Other categories with statistically high COVID-19 mortality were process, plant and machine operatives (52.8 deaths per 100,000 males; 827 deaths); skilled trades occupations (40.4 deaths per 100,000 males; 848 deaths).
Male bus and coach drivers saw 70.3 deaths per 100,000, with 83 deaths.
The data highlighted that men in administrative, office-based roles sales – a category that includes civil servants working for national and local government, and government agencies – died more often than peers in the working population, along with male colleagues in customer service roles.
Men in administrative or supervisory roles died at a rate of 39.0 per 100,000, with 186 deaths; within this category, local government workers saw 72.1 deaths per 100,000 men; those in customer service roles, 40.3 died per 100,000 died, or 156 individuals.
The mortality rate for women in office-based sales and customer service roles, also likely to include call centre staff, only avoided being in the “statistically significant” category due to the confidence intervals applied to the data.
The government recently announced it is asking councils to target key workers for regular COVID tests.