Some essential workers particularly vulnerable to COVID-19

Workers in many essential occupations are particularly vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, according to a new study published today by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

This study identified those occupations in Ireland that have highest vulnerability to more severe illness from COVID-19 due to workers’ underlying characteristics. Using data from the Healthy Ireland Survey and Labour Force Survey, the study compares workers across three risk dimensions: COVID-19-vulnerable chronic illness rates (e.g. chronic heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes), older age, and living in a deprived area. These three factors have been linked to worse health outcomes including more severe illness, hospitalisation, and mortality from COVID-19.

Dr Brendan Walsh, a Research Officer at the ESRI and an author of the report said:

“Our study identifies workers who may have worse outcomes if they contract COVID-19, due to underlying health conditions, older age, and living in a deprived area. We find frontline occupations such as road transport drivers and care workers are particularly vulnerable, as are security guards, agricultural workers, process plant operators and those working in housekeeping and related services.”

Key findings from the study include:

  • Over 15 per cent of workers have a COVID-19-vulnerable chronic illness. The highest rates of chronic illness are among housekeeping and related services (34 per cent), road transport drivers (26%), and caring professions (e.g. care workers) (22 per cent).
  • Agricultural workers (e.g. farmers), housekeeping and related services, and road transport drivers contain the largest share of workers aged 50 and older (63 per cent, 53 per cent, and 47 per cent respectively).
  • Many essential workers in elementary occupations such as elementary cleaning (39 per cent), security (30 per cent) and process plant workers (25 per cent) are more likely to live in deprived areas. Care workers, housekeeping and related services, and road transport drivers also disproportionately live in areas of high deprivation.
  • The state in conjunction with private sector industry should focus on designing and implementing innovative strategies to protect workers in occupations at highest risk of contracting COVID-19, and those occupations with workers most vulnerable to severe illness.